National Geographic

The Glory of Leaves

We have all held leaves, driven miles to see their fall colors, eaten them, raked them, sought their shade. Since they are everywhere, it’s easy to take them for granted.

But even when we do, they continue in their one occupation: turning light into life. When rays of sunlight strike green leaves, wavelengths in the green spectrum bounce back toward our eyes. The rest—the reds, blues, indigos, and violets—are trapped. A leaf is filled with chambers illuminated by gathered light. In these glowing rooms photons bump around, and the leaf captures their energy, turning it into the sugar from which plants, animals, and civilizations are built.

The Beauty of Insect Eggs

We fool ourselves most days. We imagine the Earth to be ours, but it belongs to them. We have barely begun to count their kinds. New forms turn up in Manhattan, in backyards, nearly anytime we flip a log. No two seem the same. They would be like extraterrestrials among us, except that from any distance we are the ones who are unusual, alien to their more common ways of life.

Sex at a Distance

As humans we take many things for granted. One is surely the ability to walk, crawl, or even, after a little too much to drink, drag ourselves over to a lovely member of the opposite sex. Plants have no such luxury. For much of the long history of green life on land, plants had to be near each other, touching almost, to mate. Moss lets its pale sperm into rainwater to float to nearby partners, as did other early plants, but this method requires moisture. Vegetation could only survive in those damp corners where beads of water connected, dependably, a male to a female. Most of the Earth was brown.