In the Temperate Zone of North America, April is the month of the leaf. From blades of grass to maple leaves to the giant leaves of the catalpa, nature unfurls her solar panels, converting solar energy to foodstuffs for all primary consumers. The latter include molds, fungi, bacteria, invertebrates and all herbivorous or omnivorous animals, including man. Since secondary consumers (also including man) feed on primary consumers, all terrestrial life is dependent on this annual emergence of leaves.
Despite the vital role that these photosynthetic structures play, nature lovers tend to dwell on flowers, birds and newborn mammals, the traditional symbols of spring. Yet, without leaves, these spring favorites could not exist. More than a conduit for energy trans-formation, leaves absorb carbon dioxide and release both oxygen and water vapor, playing an essential role in the maintenance of our atmosphere.
Beyond their value as producers of food and oxygen, leaves offer shade in the heat of summer, glorious color in the fall, protective cover during winter and vital nutrients for the spring growth of the next generation. More than any other structure in nature, the leaf epitomizes the annual cycle of life.