During the autumn months the leaves on deciduous trees turn colors and soon thereafter fall from the tree. But have you noticed that some species retain their leaves until spring? In central Wisconsin this is most common on oak and beech trees. The term for this leaf retention phenomenon is called marcescence, which basically means “hold on to stuff”. On a tree that loses it leaves such as maple, when the nights get longer and the days get shorter, the cells at the junction of the leaf and twig start to divide. This forms a layer of cells that slowly block the transport of carbohydrates from the leaf and nutrients from the twig. Ultimately killing the leaf and severing it from the twig. Ecologists have yet to figure out the exact reason that some species retain their leaves. With this lack of scientific evidence brings on some interesting theories and speculation to why this occurs.
Dry infertile sites are where we commonly find oak and beech trees. These soil conditions may play a role in why leaf retention is important to these species. Retaining leaves until spring would definitely slow the decomposition and would increase the organic material on the forest floor during the growing season for the parent tree. This could give that tree a competitive advantage on poor sites by increasing nutrition and retaining moisture on the forest floor.