Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Twigs on Fire

Salix x Flame (Willow )
Cornus sericea 'Ivory Halo' (Redosier Dogwood)

Some willow and dogwood species are extra visible from far across the landscape this time of year. In early spring, as sun warms the twigs, their color becomes fiery bright. It’s no coincidence the same hues can be seen in tree foliage just before the leaves fall in autumn. When chlorophyll drains from leaves before they fall, a chemical called xanthophyll is left behind in the chloroplasts. Normally masked by the green hue of chlorophyll, the xanthophyll’s yellow or red hue is left showing. Xanthopyll can collect some sunlight like chlorophyll does, but its main purpose is to protect the chlorophyll from oxidation throughout photosynthesis. It is xanthophyll that also makes the twigs of dogwood and willow appear so bright and colorful. Branches that are younger or exposed to direct sunlight will have stronger hues. Gain more color from an older, multistemmed Salix alba or Cornus stolonifera by cutting back a few branches to the ground this spring and letting a new flush of young twigs grow.

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