Photographing Leaf Decay

I’m looking at decay and it’s a beautiful thing. This leaf skeleton was spotted on a winter forest floor in Hanmer, North Canterbury.

Initially I was confused. This leaf seemed at odds because we were surrounded by pine trees. As it happens, on a previous visit, I had looked up in this same spot and taken a wide angled shot of the forest.

I’m mesmerised by the journey of this leaf from living high up to being trapped half way down and then ending up dying on the floor of the forest. (A little poetic license here as I imagine it to be the exact same leaf in all images).

Some short facts:

A living leaf has several layers:

  • cuticle – prevents evaporation of water
  • epidermis – protection
  • palisade mesophyll – cells packed together for the task of photosynthesis
  • spongy mesophyll – spaces to hold products of photosynthesis
  • lower epidermis on the bottom of the leaf – has holes (stomata)  for gas exchange 
  • Veins transport food, water, and minerals to and from the plant 

A fallen leaf is shredded by earthworms, beetle larvae, millipedes, mites, slugs and snails, that live in the soil. Then bacteria and hyphae – filamentous threads from fungi – release acids and enzymes to further break down the dead plant material. In this process water and nutrients are returned to the soil. And we know how exciting the resulting humus is to add to our gardens.

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