In Appreciation of the Humble Leaf

Soon the leaves will change colors and the smaller plants will die off for the season. Before it’s too late, get outside and observe just how useful the leaves have been all summer long.

Photo via Shutterstock

Leaves of all sizes, shapes and shades of green have provided shade, shelter, food and more to so many different species since they first emerged this spring.


Leaves as Food

Photos by Angela Rafac

There are so many examples of leaves being used as food. You can observe holes in leaves, which is evidence of something eating them. Or you might find trails on a leaf where you can trace the path a critter took as it munched away. Look at the photo on the right. The grape leaf was so delicious there is barely anything left! It looks like lace because everything else has been eaten.


Leaves as Homes


Leaves can be home to critters at all stages of their lives. If you look closely, you might see tiny little eggs waiting to hatch or some webbing protecting tiny little eggs inside. Or some insects secrete a sticky substance and stick two leaves together.


You may even find a gall, which is a growth on a leaf. Some galls are formed by a plant when a bug lays eggs inside the plant. Just like our amazing bodies grow a scab to protect us from infection when we cut ourselves, galls are grown by the plant to protect it from the eggs that were inserted into the plant.

Photo by Angela Rafac

Galls come in many different shapes and sizes. Here are two different kinds of galls on a goldenrod plant. The messy gathering of leaves on top is an example of a bunch gall. The ball on the stem is a round gall. Galls can form on many different plants, but there are 50 species that form galls on goldenrod plants! Most goldenrod galls are from midges, which are a tiny type of fly.


Leaves as a Hideout


You might find a living critter still using a leaf. It could be hiding on the leaf so it is not discovered by predators. Or it could be a predator that uses camouflage so its prey doesn’t see it as it unsuspectingly lands on the leaf. Some species might even alter the shape of a leaf by rolling it up or folding it over to make a hiding spot.


Get outside and look for all the signs of life and activity in the leaves. There is so much to discover! You could keep a journal about what you see, take photos or just point out to your hiking buddy how many different kinds of activity you see.