We are a nation currently afflicted by abscission. It happens every year and, for some, it causes OCD tendencies. The cure is a spring rake. The rake has one great calling: sweeping up autumn leaves. The last few days have been filled with its scritch, scratch tune as piles of leaves are loaded into wheelbarrows and taken to the bonfire.
Last week’s great storm, which caused devastation to parts of the east coast, brought the majority fluttering down and launched the annual and, for some, obsessive clearing-up. Leaves, containing valuable nutrients, are expensive to run and so deciduous trees re-absorb the most valuable bits, such as chlorophyll and nitrogen, before winter sets in. By this process-abscission-the tree avoids the risk of winter damaging its precious cargo.
That’s why leaves change colour-the green of the chlorophyll masks the underlying tints that are only seen in autumn. The process of shedding leaves is miraculous-fallen branches, you notice, don’t lose them, but a living tree sends out a message in the form of an enzyme to start breaking down the cellulose wall that attaches the leaf to its host. As you wait for the last leaf to fall and bring a halt to autumn’s great clear-up, it’s worth remembering that, without the fall, there would be no trees at all.
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