Tuesday, November 19, 2013

chûte des feuilles

Mulberry Tree painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1889

"Vincent painted a simple mulberry tree—not much bigger than a shrub—as an orange-and-red Medusa with leafy ringlets filling the entire canvas...He laid on paint with the lightest possible touch—mere glances of hue to show the falling of leaves," write Naifeh and Smith in their book about Van Gogh.

What would they say in Saint-Rémy de Provence this time of the year? 

Chûte des feuilles. 

Indeed!  After the cold weather arrives, the leaves are indeed falling. In some cases, as Van Gogh painted: impasto. Rapid and heavily.

Here's the interesting thing about mulberry trees: after the first wisp of real cold, the first frosty night, the leaves all fall at once. BOOM! Within a very short time, the tree loses its dazzle and lays itself bare for winter. 

The first cold triggers each leaf to form an abscission zone, a layer of cells that seals off the leaf from its supportive stem. Once the seal is complete, the leaf falls. Discarded by the tree like yesterday's news.

In 2004, naturalist/author Bill Felker in Yellow Springs, Ohio was attune enough to focus on the event. During the night of November 11-12 the temperature in his backyard dropped to the mid-20s. Burrr! Grab a sweater.

He looked out on his mulberry at 8:30 a.m. the next morning just as the first leaves began to drop. Ten minutes shy of an hour later, the tree was denuded of its foliage.
Felker wrote, "Trying to understand what I’d witnessed, I went out and counted the number of leaves in a square foot beneath the tree: 65 leaves large and small filled the space. I measured the area that held most of the newly fallen leaves: 55 by 40 square feet. I multiplied, came up with 2,200 square feet, multiplied that times 65 leaves per square foot."
"I had seen something in the neighborhood of 143,000 leaves come down, give or take maybe 50,000. Divided by 50 minutes, that would be about 3,000 leaves a minute."
Yes, indeed, "Chûte des feuilles!"

Paper mulberry

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