We may be in the dead of winter, temperatures have dipped as low as -40C with the windchill in my neighbourhood but there are still leaves on many of the trees – in fact the tree in this photo is in my front garden!
These trees, which include Oaks, Beeches and Hornbeams are known to exhibit marcescence.
The Latin term marcescent means “to wither or shrivel” – which perfectly describes these trees. In marcescence species the foliage is essentially dead and dry, and is held on the tree until spring when the new foliage emerges and pushes the old off. This may occur on the whole plant or just parts of the plant and may disappear as the plant ages.
There are many theories behind why this phenomenon takes place – from protection from predators such as deer (these trees are less tasty as they do not go through the process of shutting down and shedding their leaves), to creating more mulch by shedding their leaves in the spring. And lets not forget that many birds and other creatures will take refuge behind those leaves during the cold of the winter months!
I often use these species in my designs to provide much needed winter interest in the garden. The leaves on the trees are excellent visual interest as well as providing sound with the rustling of the leaves in the wind. Many varieties of Oaks, Beech and Hornbeam also make excellent species for planting near pools as the leaves will not drop while the pool is open.
Next time you take a walk through your neighbourhood or the forest take a look. Are there tree exhibiting signs of marcescence? Can you identify them?