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Leaf Fall

November 13, 2015

fallen leavesAt this time of year, the ground around my house and garden is carpeted with leaves fallen from deciduous trees. The process of leaf fall is such a dominant feature of autumn in this part of the United States that the season is usually known as “Fall.”

Since I last checked in on my red maple (Acer rubrum) tree, it has dropped all its leaves. The red maples, along with the birches, are among the first trees on my property to lose their leaves. By the end of the October, the red maple at the side of the driveway was pretty much bare of leaves – at a time when many of the oak (Quercus) and beech (Fagus) still had mostly green foliage. red maple bare

The United States National Arboretum’s wonderfully clear explanation of the science of fall foliage notes that when the hours of darkness reach a certain threshold level, deciduous trees form an “abscission layer,”

a corky layer of cells that slowly begins to block transport of materials such as carbohydrates from the leaf to the branch. It also blocks the flow of minerals from the roots into the leaves.

Over time, the abscission layer becomes more and more dry and corky and the connections between cells weaken until the leaf breaks off and falls to the ground. The amount of time it takes the abscission layer to reach this point seems to vary from species to species. While my red maple drops its leaves fairly quickly, many of the leaves on my red oak (Quercus rubra) trees and virtually all the leaves on American beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees hang on until early spring.

Fallen red maple leaves

Now that my red maple is bare of leaves, I can spend the coming months admiring its spare skeletal form and bark and watching for signs of new growth.

This post is part of the Tree Following meme, formerly at Loose and Leafy and now hosted by Pat English at The Squirrel Basket.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2015 9:27 am

    What a lovely tree (judging by the fallen leaves)!
    I love maples but have so much trouble identifying the species of most of them. I have taken lots of pictures of various maples in our parks over the last couple of years and have been meaning to identify every one, but so far I can do only about four. One day I’ll blog about it!
    I have never seen a maple like yours, but we do have a red oak outside our central railway station here in Cardiff. Sometimes in autumn the leaves are a glorious red, some years a wet, miserable brown.
    Thank you so much for hanging on in there with the tree following. I hope to continue in 2016, too.
    Best wishes 🙂

    • November 15, 2015 8:56 pm

      Pat, Thanks again for keeping this meme going. I only have four different types of maple trees growing in my neighborhood, and they’re relatively easy to distinguish from one another. (Red maples are by far the most abundant.)

  2. November 14, 2015 9:50 am

    Jean, you manage to find the most interesting things to say about your red maple. I always learn something, this time about abscission, both the word and the concept. Thank you!

    • November 15, 2015 8:57 pm

      LOL, Pat, I am a retired academic; searching out arcane information is second nature! 🙂

  3. November 14, 2015 5:54 pm

    Our world, our gardens are moving past fall and making that turn right into winter. It will not be long before we seen the first reports of snow.

    • November 15, 2015 8:58 pm

      Charlie, I saw snowflakes in the long-range forecast this morning. Time for me to pick up the pace on getting my outdoor chores finished!

  4. debsgarden permalink
    November 15, 2015 7:06 pm

    Definitely falling here! And falling, and falling…for months to come. May as well love it!

    • November 15, 2015 8:59 pm

      Deb, the leaves are mostly finished falling here. Even the oak leaves, which often stay on the trees until spring have mostly fallen off. Only the beech leaves are still holding on. The next thing to fall here will be snow (which usually arrives sometime in the second half of November).

  5. November 15, 2015 7:32 pm

    It does have a lovely skeleton!

    • November 15, 2015 9:01 pm

      Kris, Because this tree is framed by my big bedroom window when viewed from the bed, it is the first and last thing I see every day.

  6. November 17, 2015 7:49 pm

    I also love looking at the bare trees for many months…amazing what inspiration they bring.

  7. November 22, 2015 12:31 pm

    Funny that some trees and shrubs were still hanging on to their leaves when last night’s snow and ice hit.

  8. November 23, 2015 5:55 am

    The information about the abscission layer was something I could not figure out on my own. Thank you for sharing this precious knowledge with us. Seeing the garden covered in leafs from my bedroom window just like you is a sight I don’t won’t to forget ever. It’s hard for me to realise that many people decide to ask me to clean the autumn leaves from their gardens. I never remove something so beautiful not just because of me, but also because the children enjoy playing in the piles of leaves. Thank you again, Jean 🙂


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