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Delayed Greening of Young Leaves

Many plants practice “delayed greening” of their leaves, including this Red Maple (Acer rubrum).  An initial lack of chlorophyll prevents the leaves from photosynthesizing and making food, which means they have little nutritive value, and thus, appeal, to an herbivore.  Most plants that delay greening have reddish leaves due to the presence of anthocyanin, a pigment which appears reddish.  A majority of herbivorous insects and invertebrates cannot detect colors in the red range of the color spectrum. Young leaves suffer the greatest predation from invertebrate herbivores.  Red leaves would be perceived by these leaf eaters as somewhat dark and possibly dead – not a choice food material.  It is possible that the red coloration of new leaves allows the plant to make them unappealing to the herbivores that would otherwise eat them.

9 responses

  1. This is a very nice detailed and bright image.

    May 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm

  2. Hi Mary – do you think this is why there is the old folk tale of eating 3 of the tiny new leaves of poison ivy every day for 3 days to prevent or lessen your reaction to the plant? I have tried this several times and never had any ill effect from it. Would the urishol oils not be active in the leaves when the leaf is still red?

    May 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    • Hi Luanne,
      That is a fascinating thought about the urishol oils not being active in young leaves…I will see if I can find any information on this, as I really don’t know. I thought I was pretty daring, but you far outdo me when you consume poison ivy leaves, no matter what age they are! (perhaps this is because I suffered greatly as a child from p.i.)

      May 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm

  3. Ann

    Really fascinating post. Thank you.

    May 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm

  4. Mary Holland’s blog posts are gems. From the smallest insects and plants to the larger vertebrates, her ability to capture the beauty of nature is exquisite. Her amazing photography combined with her well-researched knowledge will hopefully help develop an appreciation in our children who are being more and more constrainted to an indoor electronic world. As a university professor of ecology also engaged in education, I thank you Mary Holland for all that you do!

    May 1, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    • I am so honored by your words, Craig. It is a joy to share my passion and curiosity with others, particularly when they view the natural world with the same reverence I do. Thank you so much.

      May 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm

  5. ruth white

    This is interesting,Mary! I had always been told the anthrocyanin helped the leaves mature earlier because the dark color absorbed the sun easier… Nature is fascinating!!

    May 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm

  6. interesting…i always learn something new reading this photo blog!

    May 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm

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