New Leaves

The green explosion in Southcentral Alaska is happening right on schedule.  With rare exceptions, during the third week of May the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs—especially birch, cottonwood, and alder—unfold from their bud cases in response to longer days and gradually warming temperatures to dramatically alter the drab  brown and gray landscape of post-breakup almost overnight.  The first signs of emergence are subtle as the tiny tips of new leaves begin to show so gradually they’re hardly noticed, but then a warm day or two accelerates the process to the point the whole area appears suddenly awash with the bright new color, emulating the sweeping paintbrush animation from some of the old Disney nature films of 60 years ago.  Most of the new leaves are a light, bright chartreuse, taking on a vibrant translucent glow in any backlit situation.  It’s a wonderful occurrence that vividly illustrates the dramatic seasonal transformation at this latitude more graphically than just about anything else.  And the intense chartreuse hue doesn’t last long; within just a few days the new leaves mature and become a darker, denser green as the chlorophyll pigment settles within the leaf to carry out the vital process of photosynthesis—the making of energy from light —which is essential for the ongoing life of the tree.  A host of new plant growth is rapidly occurring at ground level as well and wildflowers will begin to show soon, but the seasonal emergence of new leaves in the boreal forests is a very special time; take advantage of it while you can.

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