Imagine you are walking to your 9 a.m. class, and all you hear, see and smell are leaf blowers. The landscapers are hard at work removing the leaves-but have you ever stopped to wonder if that is environmentally sustainable? Since many of us have grown up having to rake the leaves, it seems normal. However, removing the leaves actually stops the fallen leaf cycle.
While often overlooked, leaves (especially the fallen ones) provide ecological importance and sustenance to the environment. The cycle begins with leaves providing nutrients to the trees through photosynthesis. This process is optimized during the summer. However, as we head into the colder months, tree chlorophyll production dies down, which forces the trees to depend on the vital sugars that are left over. As less water becomes available and resources are depleted, the leaves begin to fall.
Once the leaves hit the ground, they become habitats that are essential to the wildlife that you see all over campus, even the animals hidden under the ground! For example, birds, bees, squirrels and more animals all use fallen leaves to create nests in the branches or on the forest floor. According to the Friends of the Drew Forest Steering Committee, “pollinators also lay eggs on the underside of leaves.” Additionally, the “leaves provide warmth in the winter and nourishment for spring.”
Furthermore, based on research conducted by the Friends of the Drew Forest Steering Committee, fallen leaves help “with the nourishment of soil, carbon sequestration and water purification.” Fallen leaves contribute tremendously to the sustainability of the food web. As you can see, there is much more to the leaf than the crunch caused by a step on your way to class.
You won’t beLEAF your ears when you hear that fallen leaves also benefit people! In fact, they “help trap pollution and release phytoncides into the air which help trees resist disease!” Therefore, when the days become longer and the snow begins to melt, we can rest assured that everything will bloom once again.
So next time you are walking to class and see the leaf blowers, just know that these once-vibrant leaves have long-lasting benefits to the environment and Drew’s campus.
Elizabeth Blank is a sophomore majoring in history and minoring in environmental sustainability and teaching. Cameryn Brown is a sophomore majoring in political science.