A. J. Windless
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A pattern of maple leaves already turning toward fall colors is spotted with fungi cirlces that make the pattern more unique and interesting.
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Blighted Beauty
In the mountains south of Cache Valley, and only by perfect timing, did I happoen to find the destruction of these maple leaves so beautiful. Tar spot, as this fungus is commonly called, is most prolific when the leaves stay unusually wet, such as a lot of rain, mist, fog, shade, or anything that keeps the leaves from drying out. It is the chlorophyll produced in the leaves that give them their green color, but when it gets cold the trees suck the chlorophyll in from the leaves and drop them to the ground. It is in the abscence of the chlorophyll that we get our fall colors, such as yellow, orange, and red. The fungus that you see on the leaves above usually starts to grow in June and first appears as small yellow dots. As the spots grow bigger they begin to develop black spores which you see in the center of the circles. This tree has already sucked its chloropyll in and the leaves have turned yellow, but the fungus prevents the chlorophyll from leaving which is why you see green circles around the spores. The spores will be released into the wind and spread the disease to other trees. Even after the leaves fall to the ground and get covered by snow the spores can survive on the leaves through winter and be released into the air the following year. Enough of the fungus can cause the leaves to turn brown and fall to the ground prematurely, but most trees are healthy enough and have enough internal reserve to survive even such an assault. The fungus usually creates only a cosmetic issue and rarely kills the tree, but if you have trees in your yard and you are trying to clear of them of this blight the best approach is to clean up all the fallen leaves and burn them (where allowed,) send them to the city compost, bury them under and inch of soil, or cover them with grass clippings. Spraying fungicide on the infected tree is not recommended because it is very expensive and it might be impossible to reach every leaf anyway.  In the meantime, as seen above, I hope you enjoy the idea that even an ugly parasite like "tar spot" can have its moment of beauty.
(Photo: Sept. 19, 1992  Film: Kodachrome 64)
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