Thursday, February 22, 2007

Light of the forest

Since we moved to the Northeast almost 20 years ago we noticed small trees in
Winter with dead leaves still attached amongst larger trees in the woods. I learned that leaves that die but remain attached to the plant are known as marcescent. We always thought the pale tan leaves were quite beautiful and striking compared with other leafless trees. The leaves are very light in color and show up much more readily than the brown leaves of oaks which also keep their leaves.

I would halfheartedly think about trying to research the identity of the tree whenever I saw one but never quite remembered to do so. I only recently found out when driving past the same large tree several times a week that this was the same species as the little trees in the forest. I knew the large tree was the same because it had a few leaves still attached on some small lower branches. Apparently the larger trees seem to lose their leaves more easily than the smaller trees and that’s the reason I didn’t make the connection sooner. The large tree is a beech. I knew that because of the light gray bark that looks like elephant hide. In fact the tree trunks look sort of like elephant legs. Looking up beeches I found out it is an American Beech Fagus grandifolia. So the mystery is finally solved.

I love how the leaves stand out in the otherwise drab woods. And the trees have a wonderful shape. Here’s some information from Wikipedia: “The American Beech Fagus grandifolia is a species of beech native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario in southeastern Canada, west to Wisconsin and south to eastern Texas and northern Florida in the United States.

The American Beech is a shade-tolerant species, favoring the shade more than other trees, commonly found in forests in the final stage of succession.”

The photo is not quite what I hoped for but there is another stand of beeches that I will photograph soon which has larger trunks of leafless trees surrounding the beech. Hopefully the lighting will be right as I think that will be critical in trying to show how stunning the tree actually looks.

Please enlarge the photo by clicking on it to get a better idea of how the tree looks.

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