June 24, 2011

A Walk in the Woods: The Shapes of Leaves

When I go for my walks through the woods adjacent to my home, I spend a lot of my time looking down, paying attention to the shapes and colors and textures of low-growing things: plants, mosses and lichens, fungi. A couple of weeks ago I decided to document some of my favorite leaf shapes, shapes of plants I can't identify except for one. The charming mass of almost cartoonishly bulbous three part leaves above are my favorites, and I look out for them each spring; they simply make me happy.

There is so much variation within a three part pattern, from the first plant to this, and even within the growth pattern of the same plant, as the leaf adds complexity as it grows.

This is bunchberry, a low growing form of dogwood that carpets the path in one area of the woods. The leaves grow by fours or sixes from a perfect center, whorling their points in a circle. The white "petals" of the flowers are actually bracts, a specialized leaf, and the flower is the small round mass at their center.

I also love these leaves, rising from a center, and displaying a kind of corrugated folding which catches the light in vertical and horizontal movements. Last year I tried to watch out for flowers that might emerge from the leaves, but never saw any.

Three leaves attach to the end of a stem, and their edges are serrated so finely that it seems a frothy mass.

This plant rises above the ground. I find its new leaves, softly and delicately folded, with a lighter and cooler color than the older leaves, so poignant. They give a sense of the tender vulnerability of new life, wherever it emerges.


  1. Nice leaf shapes! Want some names? Top is Hepatica, one of the earliest of spring ephemerals. Next is Prenanthes, in the Aster family, common name Gall-of-the-Earth. Then lovely Bunchberry, then one of my favorite sedges, Plantain-leaved Sedge, an early blooming indicator of rich woods. Then Herb Robert, and I don't know the bottom plant but wonder if it's one of the viburnums.

  2. thanks so much, Susan, for the ID's. Wonderful names, "gall-of-the-earth" and "Herb Robert". You write that Plaintain-leaved sedge is an early bloomer; I'll have to watch out for the flower spikes very early next year.

  3. Yes, that is quite a pretty sedge in bloom at the same time as spring beauty and squirrel corn.

  4. I grow that sedge and love it. It does not flower but, like a grass, gets an inflorescence. They look like just like a grass does when it is in "flower." I was actually just pulling off the inflorescence to keep the sedge from seeding so much. Doesn't the texture remind you of silk?