Tuesday, January 11, 2011

D is for Deciduous

This is the old Black Walnut tree behind our house.  As a deciduous tree, it has both it's leaves and the walnuts during these months. 

Isn't "Deciduous" one of those fun words to roll off your tongue.  One of those words that makes you want to insert it into casual sentences.  "How's your deciduous today, my dear?"  "The sky is so wonderfully deciduous."  Or, "I feel a deciduous coming on."  "The deciduousness of this is deciduously delicious!  Oh, yeah!

Then Webster pulls us back into reality with the following:  "(1) shedding the leaves annually, as trees and shrubs.  (2) falling off or shed at a particular season... (3) not permanent; transitory." 

Deciduous in the animal world describes when animals loose their horns - such as deer.

Very few nursery stock, catalog or plant description doesn't include whether a plant keeps it's leaves in the winter.  In doing this, the word "deciduous" is a natural term.  Wikipedia says, " In a more specific sense deciduous means the dropping of a part that is no longer needed, or falling away after its purpose is finished. In plants it is the result of natural processes."

The large tree on the right is the same Black Walnut in the winter; without leaves or walnuts.

“The wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more.”  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Trees are the most obvious deciduous plant in our northern climate.  Some shrubs and herbaceous perennials are also included.  The opposite of deciduous is evergreen.  All plant functions have a reason.  Loosing the leaves in the winter is often tied to survival during cold - it takes less energy.  The flip side to that coin is it takes more energy to put on leaves in the spring. 

"Deciduous" is also a progressive funk rock group that would require another whole set of descriptions. 

The old walnut in a storm.

I'll just stick with this overview of the botanical version. Without getting into every known description and reasoning, let's just use this bit of knowledge as a better way of understanding the term when buying a plant, what to expect from that plant, and knowing how better to use the plant.

Deciduous is used in the medical field to describe the "baby teeth" of humans.

In some perennials the term deciduous is used the same as dormant.  This would be true of daylilies.  They are termed dormant, evergreen and semi evergreen.  These terms not only apply to how the leaves react to cold weather but they indicate how well they perform in different hardiness zones.

“Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.” (from Fireflies, 1928) - Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel laureate poet, writer, philosopher (born 5/7/1861)

Choose the right deciduous form and a plant can be beautiful in both of it's seasons - such as our old walnut.  In the summer, they provide shade, nesting and food substance.  In the winter, they provide roosting perches, form, and grandeur. 

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree."

- Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918, Trees

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