Guide The Leaves in Winter

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Here and there, though, brown, dried leaves clothe some hardwood trees. On winter woodland sojourns, you may have noticed hardwood trees holding fast, sometimes all winter long, to their spent and dried leaves. Marcescence, the term used to describe leaf retention, is most common with many of the oak species, American beech, witch hazel, hornbeam musclewood , and hophornbeam ironwood.

Autumn Leaves - How Plants Prepare for Winter

All trees shed leaves, even conifers; however, they generally retain their needles for more than one year. Leaf drop benefits deciduous trees by reducing water loss and allows them to develop leaves that efficiently use available sunlight during warmer seasons. In these cases, the occurrence of marcescent leaves may increase. It is impossible to ask the trees, but we can speculate.


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Marcescent leaves are often more common with smaller trees or more apparent on lower branches of larger trees. In the case of smaller trees, which in forest conditions would be growing beneath taller trees, the reduced sunlight might slow the abscission process. By doing this, the understory tree leaves and the leaves on lower branches of larger trees would also have the opportunity to continue or even increase their photosynthetic process as upper leaves fall.

How Pigments Play a Part

When the leaf is empty, the tree stops holding onto it and it falls to the ground, or blows away in a gust of wind. Read more: Curious Kids: how can a tiny seed actually grow into a huge tree? Some trees lose their leaves every year. These trees are called deciduous trees, and they lose their leaves in response to the seasons.

Why Didn’t My Tree Lose its Leaves?

Deciduous trees mostly come from places where winter gets cold and snowy. When it is very cold, the water in the tree can freeze — the leaves stop working and can even be damaged by the ice crystals. These trees know to prepare for this, and start taking nutrients out of the leaves when the days get shorter in autumn — this is when we can see them changing colour.

But there are deciduous trees in tropical places where it never gets cold. Winter in these places is very dry. When the rainy season ends, the tree knows that it will not have very much water for a few months, so it lets go of its leaves. Just like a bear goes into hibernation and snoozes all through winter, trees have a long sleep until the water in the pipes starts moving again.

Winter is Here! Insulating with Leaves Works!

This can be in spring, or when it starts to rain again. Then, they wake up and put out new leaves, so they can start making food again.

Why do leaves fall off trees?

Photo by Erin Korsmo. At the end of fall, most deciduous trees lose their leaves for the winter season. It is an interesting phenomenon that is not fully understood. As with most everything else in the natural world, tree behavior revolves around the sun.

Why do some deciduous trees hold onto their leaves all winter?

Once trees detect a reduction in the amount of daylight, they start to reduce the amount of chlorophyll they produce. Chlorophyll, of course, is the pigment that makes leaves green and is the primary producer of energy for almost all plants. Once chlorophyll production stops, it gets broken down and taken back into the tree.

This reduction in chlorophyll allows other pigments that have always been present in leaves, but not visible due to the overwhelming amount of chlorophyll, to be seen like yellows, oranges and reds. Read more about why leaves change color in a previous blog post. To go along with this change in color, trees prepare to shed leaves by growing a layer of cells between the leaf stem and the tree branch known as an abscission layer.


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This layer stops the transport of nutrients and water to the leaf and becomes the main physical reason trees lose their leaves. The abscission layer also helps protect this sensitive area of the plant from winter cold and dryness. The main reason for leaf drop on most trees is that, come winter, it gets pretty cold and dry in our part of the world.