Monday, January 23, 2006

new weird thing

Small beech trees don't drop their leaves. Perhaps that's too much of a personification. Let's try again: within a region of 5m or so from the base of the plant, the leaf-fall mechanism doesn't operate. If a beech is pruned so that its growth always lies within this region (which is known as a "juvenile cone"), then it will retain its leaves through the winter, and that's what happens in a beech hedge.

So because I was used to seeing beech leaves in winter, I didn't at first pay much attention. Then it began to occur to me that this year something was different: why had I gone all through the winter without stopping to notice the shaggy silhouette of tree-lichens against the white sky?

Basically, a lot of beech leaves just haven't come off the trees, and these are mature trees, it's not just within the juvenile cone. I supposed it was due to a hard early frost that killed the leaves before the tree instructed them to fall (leaf-fall is triggered by hormones and is a sign of life, not death). This is perhaps a frequent sight in colder counties, but I don't remember seeing it here before.

(Those tree-lichens are on sycamore not beech, but the trees are all mixed up together.)

The dead leaves are shrivelled and a uniform russet. They are only a remnant of last years' crop, but they are quite evenly distributed through the crowns, and they make pretty, drifting mobiles among the bare walks.

They're also like airy raisins such as you eventually discover scattered on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard.

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