Water Closet for October 10, 2014
The weekly Water Closet below entitled WATER WORKS was published by the Middleton Stream Team in October 2007. We are repeating it again this week with “colorful” added to the title. Plants in most places on the planet are not blessed with annual or even seasonable leaf color shows such as ours. Wealthy leaf peepers from around the world visit New England this time of year. As this is being written, our sugar maples are putting on quite a display. Sugar maples, famous for more than just syrup, will be at peak here by the time this is published. Late in September the rich maroons of Virginia creeper and yellow to shiny orange-reds of poison ivy vines gave us a grand preview of coming attractions. Red maples living up to their names around our swamps and ponds are at peak or past now. Their spectacular show seemed later this year. Some hickory trees are beginning to show yellows, which will soon be striking golden-browns. The foliage fiesta won’t end this month. We can look forward to that of more subdued oaks with their dignified purples, golds, deep maroons, browns and all shades in between. Let’s look into the cells of leaves at some basic water works that produce our marvelous fall colors.
WATER WORKS (from October 2007)
Leaves no longer green flutter down around the Closet. The ground is lightly shingled in rich yellows, reds and browns and all mixes in between. When dry our comings and goings rustle in accompaniment. When wet with dew or showers they glow even in the residual light filtered through the clouds. The quiet Ipswich River outside our door ferries a thin layer of this fall’s harvest. Breezes arrange featherweight rafts into swirls and sweeping lines. Last year’s golden pine needles form patches that remind of Maine’s lakes and rivers of yore filled with logs as seen from hills. This year’s needles will stay on and provide winter greenery among naked deciduous neighbors.
Let’s don microscopes and visit the innards of these ephemeral factories that provide food, oxygen, and ever-changing colors. Factories in which the machines are protein molecules operating in watery solutions. Dry leaves as all you mowers know don’t function. In processes not fully understood, chemical reactions affected by day length, temperature, humidity, and water availability from the soil, cause two adjacent cell layers at the base of a leaf stem to change. Their cell walls thicken and block vessels while weakening the glue between their two layers. This so called abscission layer cuts off the movement of water from the ground, the diffusion of sugars to stems and roots, and finally, the leaf-factory from twig. As metabolism changes so do colors. Green chloroplasts break down revealing yellow carotenes, pigments there all summer. The glut of sugars in drying leaves causes red pigments, anthocyanins, to form. As any of you crayon wielders know, combinations of yellows and red give orange and all shades in between. The death pigments, brown tannins, follow, either on the tree or later on the ground.
On moist ground bacteria and fungi receive these bright gifts, which they break down to basic molecules for all to share. They too must have water. We are all waterworks. The green photosynthesizers provide food. The microscopic decomposers recycle. We, who cannot do either, should go forth and protect our benefactors’ habitats with might and main.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2013 – 14 Central Watershed Actual
|1.3 as of 10/7**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate(S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Oct. 7, 2014 Normal . . . 7.8 CFS Current Rate . . . Unavailable
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sept.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Oct.
Normalsdata is from the National Climatic Data Center.