I have two favourite times of year here in Los Angeles, spring and fall. And yes. L.A. has both spring and fall. Spring is easier to see since California has more varieties of wildflowers than any other place on earth. Partly because we have more varied ecosystems and partly, well, no one really knows why and it can give a budding botanist a headache. The key guide for California plants will always be the Munz and mine is well thumbed and has way too many leaves stuck in it. If you have to have one, here it is but be warned it’s all keys and few pictures. You want pictures get a Sunset Western Garden Book or an Audubon Plant guide. http://www.amazon.com/Flora-Southern-California-Philip-Munz/dp/0520021460
But my other favourite season is now, autumn or fall. And contrary to non-native belief, it isn’t all brown. We do have colour. Some of the colour is from non-native species but others are from natives. Fall/Autumn also involves one of my favourite English words – abscission. What is Abscission? Abscission is why leaves change colour. Abscission is the process that makes leaves separate and fall from the trees. Trees form what is called the abscission layer between the leaf and the tree. Deciduous trees do this seasonally. Evergreens and conifers do it all the time and isn’t as noticeable
The layer forms at the base of the petiole. A petiole is a fancy word for stem of the leaf. Leaves turn colour as the chlorophyll recedes from the leaf back into the tree. (well, they don’t really turn colour, the green fades away.) Some plants do this chemically or functionally such as the light changing as the day gets shorter or the temperature changes or changes in salinity and some do it hormonally with hormones like ethylene and auxin. Either way, it activates the abscission layer and says “Hey! Time to give a show and drop your leaves!”
Interesting fact: Trees that turn yellow are trees that are found in open areas and trees that turn red are trees that have a longer time to send nutrients back to the tree and need more protection from the sun. The red is called anthrocyanin and it is a sunscreen to protect the leaf just long enough to send more food back to the trunk. Warm sunny days followed by cold nights bring the brightest reds out of the red turning trees, according to the US Forest Service.
The yellow is caused by carotene. The same thing that makes carrots, orange and is what’s left when the chlorophyll is gone.
In California, we have mostly trees that turn yellow that are native like alders and cottonwoods. But in the city you find whole streets of liquid amber trees that are specifically bred to change to certain colours. If you buy one in a nursery you can choose a burgundy or a scarlet “Palo Alto” or yellows and oranges. It’s a lovely sight to see whole streets lit up in fall. It’s native in the Americas and was introduced to Europe in 1681 where they call is Sweet Gum. I’ve never heard anyone call it that here.
So now you know why the leaves change and fall and you know one of my favourite words – abscission, and what it is.
A Tree Song”
OF all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs,
(All of a Midsummer morn!)
Surely we sing no little thing,
In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
Or ever AEneas began.
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home,
When Brut was an outlaw man.
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
Yew that is old in churchyard-mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow.
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
And your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He will take no wrong when he lieth along
‘Neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But – we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth-
Good news for cattle and corn-
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs
(All of a Midsummer morn):
England shall bide ti11 Judgment Tide,
By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
I reblog this every year but it’s still as true as when I originally wrote it. The information came from a lot of old books in our family library.
The tree you place in the living room of your house is a prayer or at least it used to be long ago. So think of what you need as you place the items on your tree.
And because it’s sympathetic magic by their shapes they remind us. The Church banned decorated trees as pagan symbols until the 16th century.
Tinsel – is a prayer for rain.
Balls – were a prayer for the Sun’s return and to reflect the evil eye away from the house.
Nuts – are a prayer for fertility. Acorns of the druids were hung when gilded. Walnuts were hung on trees by the Romans long ago as it was the nut of the gods.
Fruit – is a prayer for abundance. And the Apple because of its star inside. Grapes for friendship.
Birds – are a prayer for good fortune, happiness and joy.
Pinecones – were to attract faeries
Lights – were once candles and celebrated the sun’s return also and lighted the dark northern European night.
Candy canes had the blood shed by women and the semen of men as it’s original fertility message in the colours of red and white. And the same colours in holly and mistletoe’s berries had the same message.
The pig for its sacrifice of food for the winter.
And the tree itself as being evergreen and bringing the promise of green in spring even in the cold dark of winter.
So whether you celebrate the tree of Yggdrasil, Yule, Jol, Winter Solstice, the Tree of Knowledge, Kikellia, Saturnallia, Mithras, Jesus, Odin, Buddha, Channukah, Christmas, Kwanza, St Lucy’s Day, Boxing Day, Bodhi Day or any other holiday, blessings on you and those you hold dear. And hold them tight for no one knows what the new year will bring.