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Plants produce brightly colored flowers to attract pollinators. From the plants’ perspective, it is unimportant that people love those flowers. From the humans’ perspective, the flowers are sometimes so important that they fail to see any other aspect of the plants that might also be beautiful. Too often this means that leaves, especially newly emerged leaves, are neglected for their beauty. Often the new leaves have not developed the chlorophyll that will make them dark green, and they have light greens, pale yellows, pale reds or other shades of subtle colors that rival in beauty the bold colors of flowers. Further, the texture of new leaves is often more prominent than the texture of more mature leaves. New leaves frequently emerge in interesting patterns. The definition of beauty is subjective, but subtle color, texture, and pattern are all elements of what is usually called beauty. I admit that I have anthropomorphized new leaves, but I think that the photos in this essay show that the oaks—from both the white and red oak families—look like they are little babies, not yet possessing enough energy to face the world. Wood ferns send their fronds into the world without the strength to stand straight and tall. Sassafras and mountain laurel leaves look like a celebration; there is an uplifted pattern to their emerging leaves that looks like they are celebrating their new life. I can imagine that they are calling, “I’m here! Yippee!”

The colors of staghorn sumac and wisteria make their new leaves as beautiful as flowers. From May to September it is the texture that makes false hellebore leaves compellingly attractive. The texture is there from the start but this plant is more attractive in spring because its new leaves are lighter than the leaves that emerged earlier. And then there is the serene beauty of a tier of red maple leaves and the bizarre look of greenbrier leaves emerging with the tentacles that will hold the vine to its host.

Among the “New Leaves” we turn to start the New Year should be a resolve to appreciate the beauty and interest of the new leaves we will see this spring in the natural world.

White oak

Pin oak

Wood fern

Mountain Laurel

Sassafras

 Staghorn sumac

Wisteria

False hellebore

Red maple

Greenbrier

By Jim Amon.