An oak leaf will refuse to let go until December, clacking and waggling brown and brittle in the cold breeze. The serrated leaves of a smooth-boled American Beech turn almost white and become so thin and light they hang like feathers and seem to move on their own, even on a still January day. This year’s beech leaf may stay on the twig until next spring’s tiny new leaf evicts it, finally, pushing it out and away, off into space, down to the black soil among the first of the spring mustards and violets. from “A Time to Fall” in Slow Road Home.
And now, I’ve discovered there’s a word for this phenomenon: marcescence. Oooh, I like the sound of it. Here‘s what it means, and here’s how it describes the reason for what I observed and about which I waxed prosaic:
Marcescence is the retention of dead plant organs that normally are shed. It is most obvious in deciduous trees that retain leaves through the winter. Several trees normally have marcescent leaves such as oak (Quercus), beech (Fagus) and hornbeam (Carpinus). Marcescent leaves of pin oak (Quercus palustris) complete development of their abscission layer in the spring. The base of the petiole remains alive over the winter.
Retention of dead parts normally shed. I think there are some human behavior-relational metaphors hidden in this word, and I may just hold on (heh heh) to marcescence and pull it out when the time has come. Could come in handy, describing for instance, the baggage we carry with us from youth to adulthood, that hang brown and brittle well into the next year, and the next, and …