Monday, December 16, 2019

Canyon Maple

Click on Image to View Larger

As I was absorbed with looking through the viewfinder while making small adjustments to focus the camera and get the ballhead into place in order to compose the scene to taste I suddenly heard a twig snap behind me. It was one of those times where your body is already turning to look before the sound has completely registered in your consciousness, and I kind of jumped a little when a bearded, gnome-like man appeared seemingly out of nowhere on the trail a few feet away. The man pulled up short, perhaps as startled to see me as I was to see him. Not more than a second elapsed before our minds registered the "all clear" and we both said hello and continued about our business. 

I was wondering, where does the yellow go? I placed a mostly yellow hazel leaf on the ground next to "compostable" plastic stuff in my yard, as a sort of benchmark. I poked a tent stake through the leaf so it wouldn't blow away. The very next day the leaf had turned brown, whereas other leaves that had been on the ground much longer were still yellow. I did it again with another leaf and the same thing happened. Poking a hole in the leaf made it turn brown much faster.

I was also wondering, where does the green go? And while I'm at it, how do the green and yellow get in there in the first place? 

It turns out the tree, in this case Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), has to make the chlorophyll (and the xanthophylls and carotenoids). The fact that a "lowly" plant knows how to put together all the chemical steps necessary to do that is quite impressive, to say the least. "Biosynthesis" is a great word for a magical process. 

I was just checking out online how plants make chlorophyll molecules and was interested to learn that the chemical steps are the same, up to a point, as that needed to make heme. Add magnesium and you get green chlorophyll. Add iron and you get red heme. Both occur in plants, and if you try a web search of plant heme, you will get a jillion hits related to a certain company that makes veggie burgers. Which might annoy you if you just want to know what the difference is between plant heme and animal heme. Because if they are the same molecule, that's pretty interesting. And even if they aren't identical, it's still pretty interesting.

According to Wikipedia, "The enzymatic process that produces heme ... is highly conserved across biology."

Part of the way trees work is the same as part of the way people work. I like to just let that sink in and circulate in a nice bath of neurotransmitters for a minute. Ahh, yes. So relaxing.

* * *