Monday, August 17, 2020

5 Minutes in Nature: Appreciating green

Carpet of Ferns and Clover, Bellevue, Washington

This post is part of the 5 Minutes in Nature project — quick activities that are designed to help you relax and more deeply appreciate nature, five minutes at a time.

What color is grass? What color are leaves in the summer? What color is a cactus? They’re all green, right? But our snap response causes us to miss some of the nuance that makes nature interesting.

For this activity, take five minutes to appreciate all the shades of green you see. You might do this by examining the colors on different plants or by looking at subtle variations on the same plant. While you’re at it, think about why those differences may exist.

A box of crayons may have creative names for many, many hues and tones — Burnt Sienna, anyone? — but more often we describe color in generic terms. And we miss out as a result.

In the Russian language, light blue and dark blue are completely different colors — goluboy and siniy, respectively. Studies have found that native Russian speakers are better able to perceive shades of blue than native English speakers who have one generic term to cover the entire spectrum.

This exercise is about slowing down and taking notice of the subtleties that we miss in our everyday lives. As you’re studying the greens in your neighborhood here are a few things you may note.

You may find that newer growth on trees or plants may be lighter in color. I can quickly identify this year’s growth on the fir trees in my yard by concentrating on lighter greens. But this isn’t limited to trees. There’s a plant called Youth On Age where new leaves (and sometimes new plants) grow at the base of old leaves. The new growth is lighter green. Here is a Youth On Age plant that I found while hiking in Washington state.

Youth On Age (Tolmiea menziesii)

The amount of sunlight that a plant receives can also affect its color. The green color comes from the pigment chlorophyll, which is instrumental in helping them to turn sunlight into energy. Color difference can help them regulate the amount of light they receive. Plants that receive a lot of direct sunlight tend to be lighter green so that they can reflect some of that light. If they absorbed too much, they would be cooked to death. Those that are on the forest floor or are otherwise in the shade tend to be darker to help them absorb more light.

Try this activity several times over the next few weeks. If you spend one day studying the different plants in your neighborhood, you might want to examine a single plant on your next outing. Also, see if the greens are different somewhere else.

If you find a new appreciation for the color green, share your experience in the comment section below. And don’t forget to subscribe to the 5 Minutes in Nature mailing list to get a short message when there’s a new activity.

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