The winter leaves had fallen on all of the trees on the property in Brevard, North Carolina, when we visited at the end of December. The lone holdouts were the thin, wispy leaves of the white birch trees (Betula Papyrifera), which clung on despite the snowstorm that had toppled many larger trees. The scientific name, Betula Papyrifera, literally means paper-bearer, and indeed the leaves were paper-thin and fluttered at even the slightest hint of wind. (In truth, however, the “paper birch” is named due to the thin white bark which often peels in paper-like layers from the trunk.)
The paper-birch is a short lived species of the birch family, and in the climate of North Carolina will likely only live thirty to fifty years (though in colder, less humid climates it may live for a hundred years or more). Despite the relatively short life of the tree, it is a survivor, as the leaves attest. The paper birch is a “pioneer species,” meaning it is often one of the first trees to grow in an area after other trees are removed by some sort of disturbance. When it grows in these pioneer, or early successional woodlands, it often forms stands of trees where it is the only species.
What struck me the most, however, was that despite the relatively small stature of the trees (there were a number on the property easily recognizable due to its leaves), they were the only ones that held fast to their leaves, almost refusing to let them fall. I admire this stubbornness, even in a tree. What’s more, the leaves, though faded and whitened by the fall, were still beautiful, and decorated the tree admirably. We can, perhaps, learn something from the paper birch about retaining beauty in the winters of our lives.
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