M is for Marcescence. Marcescence refers to the retention of dead plant parts that are usually shed. We all know that trees lose their leaves in the fall. Some of us may have noticed that oak trees, and beeches carry their dead leaves will into the fall. And maybe until the new leaf buds give the old leaf a final shove in the spring. Over the past few years I have noticed that there seem to be a lot more beeches in our woodland than there used to be. They are easy to notice in the winter because they still carry so many of their dry brown leaves. They have not been abscissed or torn from their branches. I wrote about beeches and marcescence here.
I was also fortunate enough to meet Dr. John O’Keefe who retired recently from the Harvard Forest (maintained by Harvard University, not located in the town of Harvard) and he told me that it is possible that the reason there are so many new beeches, is because there has been a resurgence in the wild turkey population. Beech nuts are a very nutritious nut and appealing to turkeys. We all know that birds help spread seeds of all kinds of plant. I wrote about my fascinating talk with John O’Keefe here. The Fisher Museum at the Harvard Forest has a magnificent set of dioramas explaining the history of forest progressions here in New England.
If you look at a beech branch in the fall you will clearly see the tightly furled leaf bud that will push the old leaf off in the spring. It is very firm and will feel like a thorn. But it is a leaf bud.
I like knowing the word marcescence. Will you find a way to fit marcescence into your conversation?
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