In autumn our thoughts turn towards leaves. We admire them, and then we rake them. Leaves are so much a part of our world, and we rarely give them a thought during the rest of the year.
But leaves are the key to our survival as a species. Have you ever looked at them in that light?
Leaves are the key to transforming the sun’s energy into matter to support the web of life on Earth.
Think of it: spinach, kale, lettuce, grass. We eat leaves directly, but many of the animals we eat depend upon leaves for their own sustenance.
Every time we take a slice of cheese or pour milk into our coffee, we benefit from the goat or cow who grazed on grass and hay.
When we eat a banana, we benefit from the sugars produced by banana leaves and stored in the fruit. It’s the same with apples, plums, okra, and squash. Every bean is full of sugars produced by leaves and stored in the cotyledons to nourish the embryonic plant nestled between them. Every potato grows in the soil as its leaves produce sugars in the sun.
Not only does all food originate from sugars produced in a leaf, but so does the very air we breathe. Each leaf is covered with tiny stomata which breathe in the carbon dioxide we exhale. The carbon goes to build sugar molecules, and the extra oxygen is exhaled through the stomata for our benefit. The leaves filter our air, trapping harmful compounds as they return the oxygen we take from it in every moment.
Water, absorbed deep in the Earth through the roots, travels throughout the plant. Water not needed in sugar production is released back into the air as water vapor or as oxygen through the plant’s leaves. Thus water is recycled from ground, to sky; and our atmosphere can produce sweet rain and winter snow. Without leaves, this wouldn’t be possible.
Leaves are essential to our existence. We depend on the leaves of herbs to season our food and heal our bodies. We drink tea made from leaves. We make paper, cover roofs, wrap food, and poultice wounds.
We compost leaves to build our soil; plant grass to control erosion and carpet our gardens; and live in the shade and shelter given by leafy trees around our homes.
Leaves are a remarkable part of our lives. And now we watch as they turn bright colors or shrivel into grey. We see them falling on the wind. They puddle in brown piles around our yards and porches. We rake, we blow, we bag, we mulch.
Let us also appreciate the contributions they make to life on planet Earth, the blue and green planet where leaves sustain all life.
All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013