The Durham Council of Garden Clubs was founded in 1929 in federation with the National Garden Club and The Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc.
The Council served more than eight decades as the umbrella group for garden clubs and junior garden clubs in Durham, NC. Today, Durham Garden Clubs continue the same mission of philanthropic projects of preservation, conservation, education and beautification under District 9 of the Garden Clubs of NC.
How did "fall" come to
be? I mean, how did it come about that the more evolutionarily successful
plants were those that discarded their leaves when the winter equinox
approached? How did this whole arrangement get started, anyway? Not all
plants lose their leaves, so what is going on?
If you thought that "fall"
was "fall" because the leaves, well, they descend from deciduous
trees in the autumn, you are mistaken, according to Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden, for one. The leaves don't mind
sticking around, but the trees kick them off! Yep, this isn't just about
falling, it's more about shoving, evicting or dumping your steady date. I know
that probably conflicts with your mental image of a picturesque fall season. If
the leaves don't turn scarlet and gold where you live, you may even have worked
hard to find signs of beauty in, for instance, poison ivy. (Eww.)
But what I am speaking of is that
part of the ecosystem violently rebuffs another part of the same ecosystem.
Until just a month ago the ecosystem members seemed completely interdependent.
Now one party (the tree) is evicting the other parties (all of the leaves) with
the help of the unindicted coconspiritors, the wind and the rain or snow. (I
don't know whether I'm drafting a Restraining Order here, a Divorce Agreement,
or a Declaration of Independence) .
I don't mean "why do they turn
pretty colors," because most first graders in temperate zones can give you
adorable little speeches about the green in the leaf (which
was hiding all the other more interesting colors) going back into the tree, and
the reds, yellows, oranges and browns which were there all along showing up.
Older children may even talk about photosynthesis, pigmentation or chloroblasts
in an attempt to obfuscate, and more sophisticated, artistic types may use
words like "crimson," "scarlet," "ochre,"
"gold" or "emerald." But that is still not the
question. Which is not how, it's why even bother? You're a tree, and
everything's fine, why would you want to go and lose a bunch of perfectly good
Please don't forget that leaves, and
other green plant material (I mean evergreens, of course, and ferns, but also
sea weeds, mosses, lichens, algae, molds and other funky green stuff) are
responsible for photosynthesis, and photosynthesis is responsible for enabling
Life on Earth.
Photosynthesis helps converts the
sun's energy into sugar energy (or energy stored in chemical bonds) here on
Earth instead of out in space. Whether you take the long view that
photosynthesis → plants → [dinosaurs eating plants → dead dinosaurs] → fossil fuel reserves, or the more
pragmatic view that photosynthesis enables wheat, corn, rice, soybeans and
other crops to either be converted directly into human food or pass through
animal farms on the way to becoming more food for humans, either way you can, I
hope, see my point about photosynthesis being the driving chemistry for
Life on Earth.
But back to the leaves. There we
were, millions of years ago, in fact about 360 million years ago, according to
William C. Burger in Flowers: How They Changed the World. Evolution had
come up with the dandy new idea of plants with stems and leaves, but they were
all ferns, pines, or other gymnosperms. They all kept their leaves
year-round, which wasn't so bad, because year-round was a balmy tropical
But then it got colder, and
consequently dryer (because cold air doesn't hold moisture), and as that
happened the plants (or tree-like structures) needed to ditch their leaves. No problemo!
Over the next few million years a new type of plant evolved: the angiosperms, or seed-bearing plants. There are many interesting
things to learn about the angiosperms, but what I want to discuss today is the
lovely, flat green leaf.
A broad flat surface like a leaf,
suitable for absorbing the maximum amount of sunlight, left the plant open to
heavy losses from transpiration (or evaporation) if the weather got cold and
dry. The plant could lose raw materials if the wind or snow should happen to
rip off this hypothetical leaf. What did our ever-adaptive plant do in
response? It cleverly developed what Burger calls the "disposable
leaf." Like a diposable brown paper lunch bag,
the disposable leaf was not costly
in terms of raw materials for its pant. (Heck, let's call the plant a tree.)
It could easily be reconstructed once sunshine was again plentiful (in other
words, next spring). The disposable leaf could be abandoned, discarded,
deserted, ignored by its dead-beat tree. Except you and I know, of course, that
the trees which managed to trap these dead, disposable leaves among their roots
ended up benefitting from the leaf mulch that formed naturally on the deciduous
So when you see those beautiful
leaves falling to the ground and asking to be raked, remember, even as
they are being abandoned by their trees, they are performing one last function
for them as they die, that of a formerly living mulch for the tree's roots.
Don't be too quick to rake and dispose of the leaves; remember, the tree wasn't
taking them to the dump, it was just relocating the leaves from the end
of the branches (where they were no longer useful and would in fact be a
liability) to just above the roots, for the coming cold and possibly dry season.
Give these poor, rejected leaves a hand with their dying wishes; help them
protect and fertilize tree roots. You will feel better about yourself; I
PICTURES: Thanks to Sally G. Miller,
Morguefiles, and David Goehring.