It’s been a long time since I begrudgingly stuffed hard, heart-shaped candies into Snoopy valentines for my New Eagle Elementary School compatriots. A world away from irregularly shaped hearts made from construction paper, roughly stacked (and invariably wrinkled), then cut ten at a time with dull, green, left-handed scissors.
And while it seems like a long time until spring arrives (for many on the East Coast especially), those special, natural valentines—leaves—are starting to show signs of offering themselves to the world in some of the warmer growing climates in the United States. Blake Carlson, a grower of peaches and nectarines for The FruitGuys, emailed me this week that the bloom has started. And even here in San Francisco I’m seeing blossoms and smelling the fragrant smells of springtime. As we wait for the blossoms to fall and lead their small, cupped, bright-green leafy selves out, I thought it would be great to remind everyone about how these amazing leaves aid the plant in booting up with energy for the upcoming summer harvest.
Leaves are the engines that drive photosynthesis, and spring is a great time to watch the effect leaves have on the trees and plants that they serve. So what is photosynthesis?
Simply put, photosynthesis is the process that a plant uses to combine water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight to produce oxygen and sugars (energy). As Harold McGee notes in his book On Food and Cooking: “The most important development for the future of eating came more than 3 billion years ago with the evolution of a bacterium that could tap the energy in sunlight and store it in carbohydrate molecules (molecules built from carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen). Chlorophyll, the green pigment we see in vegetation all around us, is a molecule that captures sunlight and initiates this process of photosynthesis.”
Without this bacterium (thanks bacterium, we owe you a big one!) we wouldn’t have the earth as we know it, and we wouldn’t know it because there wouldn’t be an us to know. Photosynthesis allowed plants to create oxygen, which also created ozone. Both oxygen and ozone (one to breathe, the other to protect us from ultraviolet radiation) are keys to our survival.
As winter unwinds into spring across the country, fruit trees begin to come out of dormancy, flower, bud and grow fruit. The energy produced—set in motion originally by that unnamed 3 billion-year-old mother of all great bacterium—is what sustains us. So remember, this year when you look at a fruit tree, think about how hard it’s working each day, absorbing sunlight and making energy and oxygen.
Enjoy & Be Fruitful!
—Chris Mittelstaedt, email@example.com