Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Garden of the Seasons: Transition Time in Marsh and Forest

 Autumn color is still all around us. This year the season is rolling through without a peak. The experts tell us October needs a couple of cold nights to trigger the chemical changes in trees that block chlorophyll from reaching the leaves, allowing those other chemicals in leaves to dominate, turning them yellow gold, orange, red, bronze, and the ruddy-maroon brown of late season oaks... until the leaves dry out and eventually fall. Without a clear signal from the cold weather -- bam! bam! Did you feel how cold it got last night? -- the trees are pretty much on a go it alone basis. They will 'turn' when they do, each in its own season. On our block our street-side maple turned bright orange weeks ago. It was the only tree on the street with strong color. Those orange leaves are on the ground now, quickly losing their death-mask of color. And we've already turned the clocks back, and you still can't really tell it's autumn yet from looking at the trees.
        November is often the month with the most autumn color around here, but this fall the turn will arrive later and pass slower than ever before. 
          Frankly, the high-end market for trees in the Boston area, the Arnold Arboretum, exhibits much the same pattern. The color was muted when we visited there, the city's premium showplace and wonderland for trees, last weekend. Two examples of interesting color are pictured here. The top photo is the larch. The species is rare among conifers in practicing the behavior of the other kind of trees -- the deciduous -- in losing its leaves each year. The larch, a member of the genus Larix of the pine family Pinaceae (having just looked this up to confirm my memory) has needles that turn orange (as seen in the top photo and the fifth one down) in autumn before falling.
         The second example, also exhibiting leaves of a wonderful yellowish shade, this one a kind of buttery tint, is the gingko (Ginkgo biloba, a family of one). A native of China, the tree's leaves exhibit a sculpted fan-like shape. Pale green all summer, they turn into golden scales in the fall (bottom two photos).   
          Autumn color also turns a golden, yellowish, brownish, copperish range of tints in the salt marsh along the shore where we live in Quincy, Massachusetts. I've included here a couple of shots of the spartina grass that colonizes all of the marshland except for the more permanent channels of salt water regularly replenished by the tides. If there's any even occasionally dry sandy soil in the marsh, the spartina grows there. This time of year it turns golden or golden-brown like a field of nourishing, delightful grain that will feed us all winter. Of course it isn't, but these color tones dazzle my eyes.
           And finally, discovered in the marsh a long-legged white wading bird, the Great Egret. Just because it's there.