CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall"
-- "Autumn Leaves," written by Johnny Mercer, sung by Nat King Cole
We revel in the colorful autumn splendor of the trees that cover the West Virginia hills and adorn our landscapes. Tourists come from miles around to take in the beautiful fall display. Last week on the way to a conference in Iowa, I had the fortune of sitting next to a lady from Mississippi, who, on a whim traveled to West Virginia with her husband to take in the fall colors.
A few weeks ago, I explained (in detail) the process whereby leaves change color and eventually fall. But that color eventually fades, and the leaves fall, and -- they leave a mess!
In the woods, the leaves form an important part of the forest floor ecosystem and soil web. The leaves provide shelter to small critters and creepy crawlies from all walks of life. They also begin the slow process of decomposing there on the forest floor, feeding millions of fungi and bacteria, which slowly process the leaves into rich, earthy forest soil. This soil is what feeds the trees and all manner of plant life and makes the diversity of forest life possible. The forest feeds itself; the trees don't need us to fertilize them, they do it themselves.