The Lope: Attack of the Deadly Maple

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Attack of the Deadly Maple

Could Autumn be testing the waters via this leaf in Joplin, Missouri, on August 21?

And what makes leaves turn red, anyway?

I know, I know. It's basic grade school stuff that green Chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down to reveal the the yellow (carotenoids) and red (anthocyanins) chemicals in the leaves.

But it turns out that in the case of maples, something else very devious is going on.

Maples leaves, in particular, also turn red because they're actually producing more anthocyanins. Why would they do that when winter is coming and the tree should be more conservative with its resources?

Because the tree is using anthocyanins as a chemical weapon of sorts; that's why - better not tell the administration.

A Study done by professor Frank Frey and former student Maggie Eldridge at Colgate University reveals that the anthocyanins, which leech into the ground via discarded red leaves, stunt the growth of other seedlings and stop some seeds from growing at all. This reduces competition for the tree's resources.

Of course, this offers potential for a natural herbicide. Maybe there's a green future in red leaves.

Add to this that Frey says anthocyanins may inhibit the growth of some cancer cells in vertebrates, and you've got a lovely case of something in nature being able to take and give life.

(same leaf, August 27 - sunlit this time)


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