A Leaf's Journey Through its Cycle of Life
You’ve probably heard of the phrase called the “circle of life.” But what the heck does that really mean?
Some people use it in the context of the human lifespan; but the process of birth, maturity, aging, and death seems pretty straightforward and unidirectional on its face. The phrase is also bandied about when referring to nature’s food chain; but a chain is usually linear, and it doesn’t shed light on the concept of animals eating each other. And this expression is sometimes heard during discussions of spirituality, existence, and energy transformation; but this topic can often be mind-numbingly complicated.
One object that does fit in neatly with the “circle of life” theme is a tree leaf. That’s because the various stages of a leaf can be assembled into a readily-apparent “life cycle” when you insert composting into the equation.
How A Leaf is Created
For most observers, the leaf is “born” when it begins growing on a branch of a tree in springtime. Every leaf acts as a sort of food manufacturing machine for the tree itself, drinking in water, sunlight, and air to produce nourishment for its host. In return, the tree produces chlorophyll, which gives most leaves their greenish color.
But with the arrival of autumn comes shorter days, which cuts down on the amount of sunlight needed by the leaves to make food. In response, the tree itself begins consolidating its resources in order to make it through the cold winter ahead. As the tree begins “sealing” itself against the elements by cutting off nutrients to its leaves, the leaves begin reverting to their natural orange, brown, and yellow hues before eventually detaching from the tree entirely.
Leaves That are Fallen But Not Forgotten
As everyone knows, leaves can fall to the ground, onto roofs, into gutters, or on many other surfaces. But eventually, these leaves are either gathered up by humans or wind up in layers on the ground itself. Hopefully, these leaves aren’t simply disposed of in trash receptacles to be hauled away and dumped into landfills. Instead, it’s better to repurpose these leaves by turning them into composted material.
This is generally accomplished by putting the leaves into a compost bin and adding fresh food scraps and other biodegradable substances. To aid the composting process, the leaves should be turned and sifted periodically and if they become dry, the leaves should be sprayed with water.
Leaves Become Compost
Then Mother Nature takes over, as naturally-occurring bacteria spur the decomposition process for the organic material. Over a period of a few months, the entire contents of the compost bin transform into a mulch that is rich in nutrients. When added to regular soil in a garden, flowerbed, or yard, the mulch can facilitate growth of new plants, shrubs, and trees. In the latter case, it doesn’t take all that long for a new sapling to emerge and begin building leaves of its own – which will continue for years and decades to come.
So the next time you see a leaf, don’t view it as merely a piece of nature’s refuse. Think of it as a valuable component of the circle of life… and do your best to be eco-friendly and embrace composting processes whenever you can.
Written by Del Thebaud