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Marcescence in High Park
January 10, 2019 by Nicola Fellows

What is Marcescence?

Marcescence is the retention of dead plant organs that are normally shed. During the fall you’ll see trees gradually lose all of their dead leaves, however there are certain trees where all of their leaves stay on their branches even if they’re dead. This is what marcescence looks like. Examples of various plants and trees that are marcescent are oaks, beeches, witch hazel, and hornbeam. Oaks, beeches, and witch hazel are all plants that can be found in High Park!

Why does it occur?

No one knows the exact reasoning of why marcescence occurs, but scientists and naturalists do have certain theories. One of the theories is that marcescence happens as a delayed source of nutrients or moisture-conserving mulch when the leaves finally fall and decompose in the spring, another is that it’s for protection of the buds from deer and other animal that will eat them. Here’s a way to think about it, if you were offered a pizza with napkins all over it and a pizza without napkins on it which one are you most likely going to pick? Most likely the one without napkins, which is the equivalent of deer picking to eat buds from trees without leaves rather than trees with leaves. Marcescence is still a mystery to us all. No one knows exactly why it occurs, but it’s an interesting phenomenon that’s worth learning more about!

Photo by: Andrew Yee
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