I have been learning a load about leaves lately. My dendrology class (i.e. the branch of botany that focuses on woody plants in particular) had a “leaf morphology lab” which required us to go outside and collect examples of different anatomical parts, shapes, venation patterns, complexities (i.e. how many leaflets are in a leaf), arrangements, margin types (i.e. the edge texture of the leaf), surface texture, and armaments of leaves. I’ll list and define some below (or will put in an illustration take from our textbook), more as a study tool for myself…but maybe some of you are undiscovered botany nerds too (otherwise skip on down to “Chopping Wood“):
Margins (leaf edge)
Apex (leaf tip) Types
I’m starting to think that in another life, I’d be a dedrologist. In truth, dendrology feels like the study-of-the-often-overlooked. After you learn about all the above, how many different types of leaves there are, all their possible permutations of character and detail, going outside becomes impossibly and delightfully distracting. The world is suddenly an explosion of detail and your eye dances around everywhere to take it in, noticing difference and variety. The whole time all of this was there, I just didn’t have eyes to see until now.
Speaking of leaves…leaves are attached to wood, and last week also brought me to a lesson in how to (properly) chop wood. Now, I know what you are thinking because I was thinking it too, “isn’t chopping wood pretty straight forward?” I mean, we’ve all seen cartoons of lumberjacks or an old Western with someone chopping wood, and they all make it look easy. It is actually much more technical than you might imagine. You don’t chop straight down, but rather chop at an angle, and alternate between chopping from the right and left. Much like swinging a golf club, slight movements of the axe make a difference in your accuracy and efficiency. You also use the entire handle of the axe, sliding your dominant hand from the shoulder of the handle back towards the throat of the handle, while your non-dominant hand stays at the throat (back part) of the handle the whole time. Not only is it a challenge to learn the technique, but it is most certainly a humbling exercise for those of us still working on their “office-job arms.” But, the endeavor is surprisingly invigorating, and once you get into a rhythm, it becomes almost therapeutic.
And that of course gets you to wondering: how much wood would a woodchuck chop if a woodchuck could chop wood?
And speaking of leaves…leaves grow on trees, and tree species have common and scientific names…and scientific names are in Latin. I must admit, that I never thought I’d be learning Latin. In fact, the thought seemed laughable, and what seemed even more laughable is that I might actually enjoy learning Latin.
My dendrology class requires us to learn the common and scientific name of over 100 trees and shrubs. Needless to say, when I started, I was terrified at this impossible prospect…learning Latin?!!!! I have never been much of a natural at memorization. As I was waxing anxiety to a friend, she suggested that I pretend I was talking to Tolkien, using that Latin names of tree species…because Tolkien as a linguist-at-heart, a creator of languages (Elvish), and the author of Ents… “surely new Latin names of trees.” That helped a lot, and that is what I’ve been doing to prepare for my dendrology exam (today! eek!): listening to The Lord of the Rings film soundtrack music and talking to Tolkien in Latin terms.
I am no master of the scientific names yet, but I studying them so much that they indeed haunted my dreams. That is right, I have arrived at true tree-nerdom: I dreamt of scientific terms last night.