Nature Notes
Ankur - the sprout
-By Rani Iyer

A mature leaf is green in colour. Some of them are leathery, some soft. Many leaves are smooth, while some are hairy. Some others are lined with thorns while some are fleshy. Leaves come in a variety of shapes and textures.
It was not until my first few months in the field that I began to appreciate the variety, diversity, and sheer range in the leaf sprouts in a forest. Some plants had limp, silky leaves that are dyed in the faintest of green. Close relatives of this species had soft, silk-like sprouts, but they were cream coloured. Trees with red leaf sprouts could light up the whole canopy. To appreciate the contrast the fiery hue brings, one needs a vantage point to observe it. Some young leaves were rusty brown in colour.

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In the forest where many trees have brown bark, it is often difficult to spot these! Many plants that have thick, yellow leaf sprout looking more like flowers.
Not all sprouts are open and easily available. Sprouts are wrapped in leaf buds, leaf scales and other protective structures. A dense mat of scales, or buds can be seen under trees once the leaves have emerged. Another way of hiding the sprouts from plain sight is to have the same colour for sprouts as flower or fruit. Many plants in the understorey have violet coloured sprouts, just like their fruits.
The colours of leaf sprouts in some plants are extraordinary. They range from blue, pink, red, maroon, violet, yellow, golden, and scarlet! Even the simple green sprouts have extraordinary depth of variation in the range of colours- from lime green, parrot green, transparent green, to tender dark green. The sprouts don't shout in their glory. They quietly merge with the forest universe lending their hues and blending into its diversity.
Whatever the colour of the sprout, and however long they take to transform into a mature leaf, they all serve the same function. They serve as kitchen for the plants. Leaves are exposed to the extremities of temperature and suffer the stress of drought. Most healthy leaves are green and in a rainforest they perhaps live for at least a year. In some plants they survive longer.
When we see the colourful mango sprouts in summer, let us not neglect to appreciate the beauty of it. They are messengers of flowers and fruits to follow. From the sprout to a mature leaf, there is a story for every leaf!



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