A Bit of Green


“What’s wrong, Bryan? You look pretty disgusted,” Grandpa said, coming out of his house next door.

“I am disgusted, Grandpa,” Bryan grumbled. “Today we were assigned a subject for our reports, and Mrs. Hall gave me leaves. Who cares about leaves? And how can a teacher expect me to find any of them in the winter? I counted twenty-seven trees and shrubs in your yard and ours, and every one of them is bare! The only green things I found were some needles on pines and other evergreens. But no leaves!”

“You aren’t trying, Bryan,” the pleasant gray-haired man said. Reaching down, Grandpa plucked a three-leaf clover from a tiny patch of grass between Bryan’s feet.

“The best place to look for leaves in the right season is on trees, because they have so many of them. But look at this tiny leaf. It’s a bit of green, but each leaf is a miraculous little factory gathering sunlight to make a chemical called chlorophyll.

“A leaf can be any size, but because of its distinctive shape, you can tell whether it once grew on a towering oak, an elm, or a maple tree. No two leaves are ever exactly the same.”

Bryan examined the clover leaf with new interest as his grandfather talked.

“All most people know about a tree is that it is pretty, makes property more valuable, gives birds a nesting place, and has leaves that make cool shade,” Grandpa continued. “But one single well-watered tree does a lot more than that. The daily evaporation from one tree can produce the cooling effect of hundreds of air-conditioners.”

“Wow!” Bryan said with new interest. “Then trees should be preserved instead of being bulldozed down. No wonder the ladies from the garden club worked to save those big trees in front of the library!”

“Those trees were large even when I was a boy,” Grandpa told Bryan. “Did you know that leaves protect the soil from raindrop impact that erodes the soil away? Leaves also stabilize water tables in the ground so wells don’t go dry, and they have the ability to absorb polluted air and throw off air rich in oxygen,” he added.

“Leaves are essential to life. They help muffle noise and moderate temperature, wind, and water. Some maple leaves will turn upside down, exposing their lighter sides, to warn of approaching rain!”

“I wonder if the people interested in ecology know all that,” Bryan said thoughtfully. “All I knew was that we find millions of leaves on the ground in autumn. I knew that leaves hang onto trees until fall, when they turn many beautiful colors and then fall off.”

“Dead leaves can still serve man,” Grandpa explained. “Plants can be covered with them to survive in the winter. When ground up or shredded, leaves make a good mulch to fertilize the lawn, or they can be turned into rich compost for the garden.

“Certain leaves also represent different things. The laurel leaf is a symbol of victory. Olive leaves have been symbols of peace and hope ever since the time of Noah when a dove brought an olive leaf back to the ark to show that the flood was over. Oak leaves stand for strength, glory, and honor.”

Bryan stared at the three tiny leaves wilting in his hand. “My report on leaves will be much more exciting than I thought. But I wish I had some leaves to tape into my notebook.”

“What do you see filling all of Grandma’s windows over there?” Grandpa asked.

“Plants! Her house plants,” Bryan answered. “Grandma must have lots of different kinds of leaves! Thanks, Grandpa.”

I’ll bet no one else was given a subject as important as mine, Bryan thought as he started across the yard to ask Grandma for some leaves for his notebook. Now he could hardly wait to get started on his report!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Ted Nagata