Thursday, January 31, 2013

Delaware Beeches in Winter

      No, this post is not going to be about sand and surf in the winter.  It is about the American beech tree, Fagus grandifolia, and marcescence.  Whoa, that is a new word to me.  Here’s a summary of the phenomenon by Nancy Rose, an Extension expert from University of Minnesota: “Deciduous trees that hold onto their leaves through the winter are described as marcescent (mahr-CESS-ent). Some tree species are more likely to show marcescense than others. In autumn, the leaves of most deciduous trees develop an abscission layer where the petiole (leaf stalk) meets the branch. This allows the leaves to fall off without leaving an open wound on the stem. Dry leaves stay on marcescent trees because the leaves didn’t develop the normal abscission layer in autumn."
    “Marcescence is often a juvenile trait and may disappear as the tree matures. It also may not affect the entire tree; sometimes leaves persist only on scattered branches. Marcescence is typically based on a tree’s genetics, but sometimes weather plays a part. In years with early freezes tree leaves may be killed before developing an abscission layer, resulting in persistent brown leaves on many trees that aren’t usually marcescent.”
     All of the science aside, my walk in the woods this morning was beautiful.  The early morning sun shining on the leaves that had fallen from the most of the trees, including the mature beech trees.  The creek was abnormally high and active from last night's storm.

      The young trees have retained their leaves, while the mature trees have dropped their leaves.  Lots of pretty coppery leaves on the ground, but plenty of sunlight getting in to enjoy the leaves hanging in the understory.  The snow has melted, and this is a rare time when the walk is actually prettier without a snow cover, allowing me to see all of the coppery beech leaves.

The lovely gray bark of the beech trees

Mature trees are mostly bare
      It was a beautiful walk this morning with the beech trees in Bringhurst Woods near Rockwood Museum on the greenway in northern New Castle County.  I may have even had a day dream about walks on the beaches in another six months, but that is for another season, and another day.


  1. I did a double take, I must admit, when I quickly read the title of your post! I was expecting to see Rehoboth, or some other familiar beAch! :)

  2. Great to see your nature-related blog. Found you via Moira Sheridan's News Jrl. article today. Love the beeches in winter. Drove thru Alapocas last week and they looked like snow.

    Cindy Albright
    now in Lewes DE