As I head up the Zigzag Trail, I find myself shuffling through a colorful mosaic of bigleaf maple leaves. The sunlight filtering through the forest illuminates greens and golds in the canopy and myriad hues of earth tones in the decaying leaves on the ground. In addition to it being visually arresting, the sweet aroma emanating from this blanket of decomposing leaves is fairly intoxicating.
Beholding this, I decided to rest on a nearby bench to absorb the magical season of fall. As I sat there looking at all the leaves on the ground, I noticed many of the leaves had green spots that looked like a droplet of watercolor pigment had fallen on their wet, papery surface. Inside these blotches were black, raised dots which are the spore-bearing tissue of a tar spot fungus. The fungi will overwinter on the fallen leaves. With the splashing rain and wind of spring, the spores are carried back up into the tree where the life cycle begins again on new, sprouting leaves.
Interestingly, as the fungus forms on the leaves during the spring and summer, it is brown and yellow around the black dots as if it is sucking the life out of the leaf. In the fall, it seems to reverse course by creating an island of green around itself, perhaps to keep the leaf alive a little longer as it completes its life cycle.
Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. Hope to see you out there.