Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

August 16, 2007

A Maple Leaf Mosaic

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:16 pm

I stumbled upon a beautiful leaf the other day. It journeyed to earth from high atop one of my Red Maples. In a summer world still dominated by green, such a brightly hued leaf stands out as a veritable mosaic of texture and color.

Take a look here, and youll see a spent Red Maple leaf exhibiting glowing green, luminous yellow, intense red and a liberal coating of jet black grape nuts. Its a work of art in itself and so by definition doesnt really need analysis to illicit appreciation. However, knowing that Vincent Van Gogh liberated one of his ears and that Beethoven was deaf, lends a fuller appreciation of their art, so its worth a try to see whats behind this particular heaven sent work.

At the beginning of the summer, this leaf was no doubt performing its primary duty as a food maker. The combined stresses of high heat and an extended dry period in early August prompted the mother tree to resort to a coping action. The minor leaves were shed to conserve energy and water. A corky layer formed at the connecting point of the leaf stem and the pipeline to the rest of the tree was cut off. Strangled into retirement, the leaf was released several months ahead of schedule.

A small essence of life blood still remains in the fallen worker. Chlorophyll, contained in cells called Chloroplasts, still radiate green light from the areas around the supportive veins. The veins are the mini pipelines that supplied and drained the leaf, so the green cells cling to them like cottonwoods to a desert river. Chlorophyll is the magic substance that is responsible for converting the suns energy into food. It absorbs light in the red & violet spectrum and reflects the yellow and blue components.

Once a leaf dies, the chlorophyll quickly breaks down and the leaf is forced to reveal another important set of pigments called Carotenoids. These are the bright reds and yellows which give the leaf its eye-catching quality. They were there all along, but were masked by the overwhelming green pigment. Because they reflect yellows and reds, Carotenoids are able to absorb the blue spectrum light and help the chloroplasts make maximum use of the sunlight hitting the leaf. These colors certainly lent more than mere beauty to the tree that once employed them.

What then is there to say about that grape nut coating? These are galls hundreds of tiny galls created by creatures called Eriophyid Mites. Heres a real close up view of one, but suffice it to say they look like carrots with four legs. Earlier in the season scores of these miniscule mites crept out from their over wintering spots within the tree bark and made their way to the growing leaves. The mighty mini mites wasted no time and immediately plunged their tiny straw mouthparts into the leaf and began sucking the plant juice. The leaf reacted to this attack by forming a chamber around each mite.

By the time the season progressed, our leaf was heavily infested. The grape nut chambers created by the interaction of this mite and the leaf are called Maple Bladder Galls. The chambers are hollow and several generations of mites used them as sheltered feeding rooms. Take a look at this cross section to reveal a few of them at work.

Early on, the bladder galls were pink and later graduated to a deep red color. At the end of the cycle, they become black and the mites migrate to greener pastures. Those galls on our mosaic leaf were miteless by the time they came to our attention. Oddly enough, bladder galls do not damage the trees and are considered little more than nuisance pests.

In the big picture, the gall mites simply provided us with a texture to go along with the colorful palette on this leaf of art. I think youll agree that the close-up view, complete with its chemical light show and galling detail, was equally as stunning.

9 Comments »

  1. Happy Birthadday Ate Em!!! .…may this mileadstone year be the beginadning of decades of peace, love and hapadpiadness!!! …will be lookading foradward to the pteiurcs/​stories of places u’ve been to … who knows we might be able to go with you guys on da02014 trip?!? Once again, may you have lots of fun, laughadter, and love on your speadcial day… (sendading lots of hugs n’ kisses thru Jacob…

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  8. The first portrait by Lindbergh is a masterpiece of style and light. The girl is a rear beauty as one could expect with such a pedigree. She has Grace’s eyes and she also reminds a young Isabella Rossellini: full lips, 70-s styling, the look. Gorgeous! Thank you Carla.

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  9. I think I read about that in one of Robert Anton Wilson’s books, probably *Cosmic

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