November 1, 2011

Trees and Exoplanets

Over the last weekend, I witnessed something I've never seen before: October snow in the East Coast! Never have I seen snow this early, and what I observed was quite intriguing.

As I was driving home, I saw branches breaking and falling dangerously on the streets. Apparently, the snow were piling up on the leaves, and as they became too heavy, the branches simply snapped.

It's only then that I realized why trees evolved the capability (or adapted) to shed leaves before winter comes, to avoid losing limbs or getting uprooted. Naturally, those who fail to adapt will perish. And what I’ve witnessed is only one among many mechanisms that the tree employs to prevent damage and survive during harsh winter weather. Shedding leaves also prevents the tree from losing moisture during winter--which tends to be drier than anyone would think. Of course in the context of this post, I am only referring to Deciduous trees.

Deciduous trees have developed specific adaptations to the seasons. We all know that seasons are linked to the tilt of the earth's axis from the orbital plane, and the eccentricity (or elliptical) orbit of the planet, among other things. This makes me wonder about the kind of adaptations that trees on other planets would have, depending on the characteristics of their home planet--which would have its own unique seasons.

There isn’t much information linking trees and exoplanets (as we haven’t detected any exotrees yet!). But some say that it’s possible to detect trees on other planets. And I heard that that there could exist trees with wild foliage on weird worlds with different light conditions. For example, a planet orbiting the habitable zone of a red dwarf would harbor trees with black foliage to capture as much energy as possible from the feeble light of their sun.

We can only imagine the amazing variety of trees that could exist on other worlds, which is a reflection of the diversity of exoplanets with different properties and characteristics.

See also: Plants and Exoplanets

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