If you are familiar at all with rainforest biology, you know that the forests are structured into layers.
The Leaf Detective book is as multilayered as a rainforest.
The trunk of the book is the biography of Margaret Lowman, an incredibly brave and determined biologist who developed new methods for studying the tops of trees, the canopy and emergent layers. Using ropes and a harness of her own design, she climbed up into the great unknown.
We had already been to the moon and back and nobody had been to the top of a tree.
The branches of the story are Meg Lowman's findings. For example, she discovered that most of the herbivores in the rainforest she studied were nocturnal, eating leaves at night and hiding during the day. To learn more, she climbed up into the trees at night.
The roots of the story comes after Meg realized that for all people didn't know about trees, they were still destroying them at an alarming rate. She started to come up with innovative ways for people to use intact forests as a source of income and thus making it economically viable to save them.
Let's not forget the leaves. Sprinkled throughout are leaf-shaped sidebars filled with interesting facts and additional details. So cool!
The illustrations are as green and lush and complex as a rainforest, too. The reader could get lost and spend hours in them. My favorite shows Meg sitting in her office, but the wall has disappeared and has become part of the natural world outside. It emphasizes that we aren't separate from the natural world, but we are part of it.
The bottom line? The Leaf Detective is perfect for young readers who are budding scientists, adventurers, conservationists, interested in women's history, the list goes on and on. Pretty much everyone will find something to explore in it. Pick up a copy and see how it resonates with you.
Activity Suggestions to Accompany the Book:
1. Investigate Leaf Age
One way Meg Lowman studied trees was to investigate leaf ages.
In areas where trees lose all their leaves in the fall, leaf age isn't a big question. However, some trees may be evergreen, or in warm climates may keep their leaves year around.
If you’d like to find out how long the leaves live on trees or shrubs in your neighborhood, choose some freshly emerged leaves and mark them with an acrylic marker. The young leaves are a lighter, brighter green color and are often softer in texture.
If you don't have a marker, you could also mark the leaves with tags or ties, anything that won’t wear or fall off or interfere with normal leaf development and photosynthesis. Record how many leaves you tag, when you tag them, and roughly where they are in the tree.
Check your leaves periodically. You might want to mark more leaves each time if you see new, fresh ones. This is a long-term project, so be patient.
We marked some of the new leaves on our lemon tree, which is evergreen here, a few years ago. Our marked leaves remained on the tree through one entire year. The tree dropped a lot of leaves a couple of times, but our marked ones held on. Unfortunately, our marked leaves were lost before the experiment was finished when someone -- who didn't know about our experiment -- trimmed the tree.
Let us know what kind of tree or shrub you choose and how long the leaves last.
2. Be a Fallen Leaf Detective
If you live in an area where the leaves come off in the fall, you can do a lot of leaf investigations. For example, you can figure out which leaves came from which trees.
Gather a good tree identification guide that shows both leaf shape and bark patterns. Identify the leaf by its shape, then find the tree by its bark pattern, color, and general shape.
Start with some trees you know well to practice then move on to unknowns. Remember that leaves blow around. Look for nuts/seeds to match with the trees that produced them, as well. Treat it like a game.
During a quiet moment, take a good look at the trees. Once the trees have lost their leaves, other aspects of their structure are revealed, such as the texture of the bark, the shape of the branches, even the leaf scars on the twigs. Compare different trees. Close your eyes and feel the bark. Listen. Smell the wood. Do trees smell differently? Talk about your findings.
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