Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fallen Leaves

As October draws to a close, the sights and sounds of man fighting fallen leaves are common here.  If left to winter over where they fell, a slimy sodden mess will be revealed when the snow cover finally disappears.  Clearing leaves on a bright fall day has pleasant components.  Lawns are light bright green when the leaf cover is quickly pulled away.  A pleasant scent unlike any other fills the air at this time of year.  Cold has ended most of the annoying flying insects by now and pleasant days outside are definitely limited at this time of year.  We do not have lawns to rake but in some places the leaves require attention.

Arbutus is an evergreen plant that cannot simply sleep until spring.  Sunlight to some degree is needed to maintain its life function.  Our first discovered wild patch of arbutus grew on a steep slope that was becoming home to birch trees.  Despite the steep north tending slope, fallen leaves did not clear and the arbutus were smothered under their deep dark cover.  Wild plants finding death is a natural process.  Human intervention is short term but is all that we can do.

These plants found their location without human meddling.  They grow in the lumpy overburden that was pushed aside more than a half century ago to open a gravel pit.  We have known about the location of these plants for years but sometimes we could find no trace of them.  Two winters ago I discovered tell tale signs that a rabbit was eating these plants.  That is yet another peril of being evergreen.  When the weather warmed, a protective wire cage and a field stone wall were placed to protect the remains of these plants.  Recover they did but now fallen leaves threatened to end them once again.  Human hands had to intervene.

With the cage set aside, fallen leaves were gingerly removed from the recovering arbutus.  All of this regrowth is one year's work since the foraging rabbit left no sign of a leaf anywhere.  Flower buds were found on larger pieces of new growth.  This surprised me since I expected two year's of regrowth would be required before flowers would be seen here.  The wire cage is back in place and low sunlight is once again nourishing the desired plants.

What will happen to these native treasures when we are forced to leave this land is uncertain.  Without someone to clear them, the increasing load of  dead leaves will likely smother these arbutus.  When this happens it will be a natural process that our actions were only able to delay.  As it is, these plants are back and their flowers will be enjoyed when the snow finally disappears.

This is the present state of the arbutus that were transplanted here four years ago.  Their wild home was on a ridge that had recently seen its forest cover cut.  Exposed to unrelenting daylong sunlight, these plants managed to modify and adjust.  Only tiny sunburned leaves grew close to the ground and flowering was profuse.  The four transplants have undergone a complete transformation in their new location under a white pine tree.  Longer taller leaves extend far above the litter of fallen pine needles.  An occasional oak leaf will cover and smother an individual arbutus leaf  but the plant will survive.  The wire cage must remain to protect from foraging rabbits and woodchucks.  The plants have reached the limits of the cage and we will watch to see how the stems deal with the barrier.  If the growing stems push past the wire cage, the new growth will be exposed to danger.  Natural pruning will likely occur but the bulk of the plants will be protected until the wire rusts away.

These six new flower buds hold the promise of memorable scents next spring.  Their seed will provide an opportunity for a natural increase in the number of plants here but the laws of nature will rule.  Some may survive and some will be eaten.

These four transplants have brought to me pleasure that is beyond description.  Having them survive transplanting and watching them prosper here has been great.  They do set seed so there is always hope that they will increase in number .


Beth @ PlantPostings said...

I always wonder how Arbutus make it in the wild. They must find spots that have dappled sun, but are blocked from falling leaf litter. My backyard is now covered with leaves. We've had a few stiff winds from the Northwest, which helps to blow the leaves into the woods, which we own. Very convenient. I'll wait until most of them have dropped. Wait a little more for help from the wind. Then I'll rake the rest into the woods. Autumn is hard work in a woodland garden.

Indie said...

How great to be able to protect such a treasure! They will look so lovely in bloom. One does wonder how these plants survive without any help in the wild.