Buckeye trees

By Michael Ellis

A friend of mine moved into the dry foothills of the Sierra years ago. His property had oaks, Grey pines, grasslands and a stream that only flowed in the winter and spring. Depending upon the winter rains the creek would flow into April and sometimes May but then dry up. During his first summer the creek suddenly started flowing again in August. He was quite perplexed. There had been no additional rainfall, no snowmelt, but there it was – water in the creek. It flowed for a month longer and then dried up. He thought no more about it until the next year when the same exact thing happened again. That’s when he called me and asked if I had an explanation. I didn’t.

California’s climate is characterized by mild winters, hot summers, fire-adapted vegetation and a long drought period of six months. There are several ways plants can cope with the dryness. Annual plants begin growing with the winter rains; they flower and fruit quickly and then just die – leaving behind hard tough seeds to wait for next year’s rain. Many plants have tough resinous evergreen leaves that simply resist desiccation. And others survive by dropping their leaves and becoming dormant during the hot, dry summer and fall.

So for years my poor friend was driven nuts by this summer water mystery, f He would wait in dread for the water to appear again. He tried looking at every angle he could think of- barometric pressure, artesian water table, leaking septic systems, and finally in the 5th year he had his “AHA” moment.

Along his creek were many California buckeye trees. These magnificent trees leaf out early and fast in the winter, popping out with large five parted leaves. One of these full-grown trees can transpire literally thousands of gallons of water per day. During the hot dry summer all of the trees would suddenly drop their leaves. Immediately there would be a flush of ground water available, no longer being lost out the leaves and presto — the little creek would start to flow again. The mystery was solved and my friend could sleep again.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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Posted on

November 13, 2009