Examining Leaf Litter

So many leaves fall each autumn from oaks, hickories, elms, redbuds and more. Mushrooms appear. Examining leaf litter doesn’t seem worth the time and effort.

This year I happened to look down and see something interesting. This oak leaf had rose patterns on it.

Examining leaf litter became interesting.

leaf litter roses
This pattern is only found on chinkapin also called chestnut oaks. Some trees have lots of leaves with this. Others have few or none. Looking for more of them got me examining the leaf litter and finding other things too.

The rose pattern is only found on chinkapin or chestnut oak leaves. Not all of these leaves have the patterns. The leaves that do can have one to a dozen of them.

The fresh patterns have a dark green edge to them. At first we thought a fungus caused them. Now a bacterium seems more likely.

Other oaks shed leaves peppered with little black spots. Galls were on other leaves.

There is a large gall on oak leaves in the spring and summer. The autumn galls were small and covered with tiny spikes.

Then I came across a leaf covered with smooth balls bursting open. When I looked at these under a stereoscope, the insides were lined with tiny particles probably spores for this fungus.

found by examining leaf litter
Usually little spheres on a leaf are caused by larval insects. These weren’t. They seem to be caused by a fungus that forms these spheres which burst to spread the spores so new fungi can grow on other leaves.

My writing at the moment has a creature in it based on the tribbles from Star Trek, the original series. These were bigger than a hand and covered with soft fur. I turned a leaf over and found numerous tiny versions of these tribbles on the leaf.

examining leaf litter for fungal spheres
This is another chinkapin leaf. This one has numerous soft furry spheres on the underside.

A recent Explor magazine from the Missouri Department of Missouri had a recipe for preserving autumn leaves for the color. (It’s free for Missouri residents from their website.) Growing up we put special leaves between sheets of wax paper and ironed them together. I’ve even used clear plastic shelf paper.

Admiring the many colors is a favorite pastime in autumn. High winds pulled the leaves down onto the leaf letter layer on the ground cutting our time short.

Examining the leaf litter has extended the time for admiring autumn leaves this year.

Find out more interesting things about the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”