The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Simpler estimates of leaf decomposition rates

Decomposition rates of leaves are studied using mesh bags.One of my favorite studies was by Cornelisson, who studied the rate at which senescing leaves from 125 British plant species decomposed.  While other scientists carefully measured the percentage of lignin, nitrogen, and tannins in the leaves, Cornelisson wanted to know if he could predict the speed at which leaves broke down using more easily measured plant characteristics.

He discovered that the plants that decomposed fastest were woody climbers, followed by flowering herbs, deciduous shrubs, deciduous trees, grasses, and deciduous subshrubs.  The leaves that were slowest to decompose came from evergreens.

He also found that plant family was related to speed of leaf decomposition.  From fastest to slowest decomposition were Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family), Asteraceae (Composite Family), Salicaceae (Willow Family), Fabaceae (Bean Family), Rosaceae (Rose Family), Betulaceae (Birch Family), Poaceae (Grass Family), Pinacaceae (Pine Family), Ericaceae (Blueberry Family), and Fagaceae (Oak Family.)  Perhaps this is a quick and dirty way to choose which leaves to throw on the veggies and which on the trees?

Cornelissen, J.H.C.  1996.  An Experimental Comparison of Leaf Decomposition Rates in a Wide Range of Temperate Plant Species and Types.  Journal of Ecology.  84(4):573-582.

This post is part of our Leaves for Fertility lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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