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Leaf it alone

Hudson Cooper - Columnist
Posted 10/8/20

October brings two annual events to our area. Seemingly overnight the leaves on trees begin to change color while at the same time almost every food item is infused with pumpkin spice seasoning. …

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Leaf it alone

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October brings two annual events to our area. Seemingly overnight the leaves on trees begin to change color while at the same time almost every food item is infused with pumpkin spice seasoning. Before we carve up the pumpkin flavoring phenomenon, let us explore the changing leaves.

To get an understanding of why and how leaves go through a metamorphosis in the Fall, I contacted Bradley J. Montrose at the Bureau of Arboreal Arcane Facts. Due to their high volume of phone calls during this time of year it took many attempts to get through to BAAF. Eventually he put down his lawn rake and answered the phone. I received the information to impart to my readers.

Trees that lose their leaves are known as deciduous. There are many varieties that grow in our Northern Hemisphere such as elm, oak, cucurbita, poplar, cherry, willow, maple, birch and beech. As the temperature drops, trees become a vicious killer of leaves. To conserve energy and water, the tree trunk and roots have a conference and decide when it is time to suck the nutrients from the leaves and make them fall to the ground. Maybe that is why Autumn began to be called Fall when in 1755 it was entered into the Dictionary of the English Language.

As the weather gets colder, hormones in the tree branches begin to activate special cells that cut off supplies thus strangling the leaves. That triggers the beginning of the color change. During Spring and into Summer when the leaves bloom, the chlorophyll in them absorbs the blues and reds from sunlight. In the Fall, the tree pulls vital nutrients from the green leaves to store in the roots during the Winter. Chlorophyll is one of the first pigments pulled from the leaves which is why the leaves turn red, gold and orange.

Once the tree has gotten everything it needs from the leaves, they are shed and drop to the ground. To complete the process, the tree provides a layer of cells to seal up the former leaf site until the Spring when all is forgiven and the tree welcomes back the leaves with open branches.

This time of year, the landscape is covered with those colorful trees. They probably remind my readers who had model train sets as a child of the colorful sponge “trees” that we glued to our miniature train towns. They made the tiny town come alive along with the Sinclair gas station with its ceramic mascot “Dino” and the plastic businessman holding his newspaper near the train depot.

It turns out that “leaf peeping” is big business. In the Northeast people drive hours to peep at nature's colorful foliage show. They bring a seasonal revenue boost to motels and restaurants in the small towns lucky enough to be amid the trees. To many it is a yearly obsession.

Which brings us to another yearly obsession. Sure, we all are familiar with pumpkins and carving them for Halloween. But nobody would have guessed years ago that pumpkin flavoring would have infiltrated hundreds of food items this time of year. The first sign of Fall is not the changing color of leaves. It is when the first television ad pops up announcing its “pumpkin time” for a national donut chain. Then like some mythical beast, the pumpkin spice reaches its tentacles into hundreds of food items.

Besides donuts it infiltrates cream cheese, lattes, bagels, chewing gum, vodka, coffee, hummus, cookies, yogurt and countless others. It even infiltrated my earlier list of deciduous trees. My readers, tuned into a common device of mine, might have spotted cucurbita in the previously mentioned list. Cucurbita is not a tree but part of the scientific name for pumpkin.

As the comedian Jerry Seinfeld might say. “What's the deal with pumpkin spice? It has cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg but no pumpkin!” Even without a molecule of pumpkin, the pumpkin spice invasion has become a $500 million a year industry in the United States.

But actually, the spice had its birth in the Caribbean, Indonesia and parts of Asia where the spice ingredients thrive in the tropical weather. The first reference to pumpkin spice in America seems to be in the 1930's when a harvest festival in Illinois introduced pumpkin spice cake. Years later the McCormick company began selling pumpkin pie spice.

Soon they realized the potential for growth, so the company dropped the word pie. Eventually many companies manufactured pumpkin spice and it found its way into almost everything we consume in the Fall.

So, the next time you take the family for a drive to see the natural beauty of our Fall foliage, pack a lunch of pumpkin pie, pumpkin chocolates, pumpkin lasagna or ravioli, pumpkin bread and some pumpkin coffee. And as a thank you to the company that reminded you it is pumpkin season, bring along a pumpkin donut that is good for dunkin'.

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