The network of veins on this aspen leaf is amazing.

Right now, our world can be essentially defined by a single color. Summer is here and trees, shrubs and other plants are all in full leaf, capturing the sun’s energy and transforming it into food for their needs through photosynthesis and, in the process, coloring our world green.

Nearly every plant has leaves, and they are one of the most amazing things in nature. Not only are leaves the site of photosynthesis, leaves are also a major way that plants “breathe” through stomata. They can store food and water. And there is a network of veins, often referred to as the leaf’s vascular system, that transport water and nutrients and add support to the leaf. In deciduous plants, the leaves die each fall and grow anew each spring. Some plants have very different leaves between young and mature plants. Leaves can curl, fold, or waver in the wind (like quaking aspen) in order to control heat exposure or reduce desiccation. Leaves are often organized on the plant using the “golden ratio” or Fibonacci sequence so that each leaf achieves maximum exposure to the sun. That is all pretty amazing for an organism that is unable to move around.

The variety of leaf types is so astounding that it is difficult to describe a “typical” leaf. Many leaves that we are accustomed to are similar to a maple leaf with a thin profile, different coloration between top and bottom and a strong reticulated (like a net) vein system. Within these generalized characteristics though, are an amazing array of leaf margins—from smooth like an aspen, to saw-edged, lobed or fully divided into leaflets of varying numbers to name a few. Surfaces may be smooth, waxy, shiny, dull, covered in fine “hairs”, thin or thickened. The vein system of each type of plant is almost as unique as a fingerprint as well, at least at the species level.

However, grass leaves are linear with a straight vein system. Succulent plants have thick fleshy leaves where they store water. Agaves and yuccas add armored tips and edges to discourage large ungulate browsing.

There are times when leaf tissue is modified and the result may look little like a leaf. Cactus spines are actually modified leaves. The tendrils on pea plants, those cute little ropelike things that wrap around objects to help the pea plant climb, are modified leaves. Underground bulbs such as onions are made from modified leaves as are the insect traps of carnivorous plants. Conifer needles are modified leaves as are the scale-like leaves of the juniper. Some leaves, like those of the pebble plant, don’t look like leaves at all. Leaves form the basis of pine, fir and spruce cone scales—each individual scale starts as a leaf. Even flower petals, sepals and bracts have leaves at the root of their development.

Leaves can get huge. Defining the largest leaf is a challenge because it depends on what you are measuring—length? Then consider Raphia regalis, a palm whose huge leaves can reach a record breaking 80 feet long by 10 feet wide. However, this leaf is a series of leaflets, not one solid leaf. How about the round leaf of the giant Amazonian water lily - Victoria amazonica, which has documented diameter of up to 8 ft., a surface area of 50 square feet and can support a small child. Then there is what is often called ornamental rhubarb, a plant with leaves about seven feet wide.

We use leaves in cooking, and your spice cabinet likely contains bay leaf, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, parsley and onion powder which are all from leaves or modified leaves.

However, the most important thing that leaves produce for us is at the very core of life on earth—oxygen. Leaves absorb carbon dioxide to use in the production of sugar through photosynthesis, producing and expelling oxygen as a by-product. And that makes our world go around.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho