Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Deciduous or Dead

acer palmatum

acer palmatum

Throughout the winter we get people asking us if their tree or shrub is still alive. Plants sometimes fool us people in the Bay Area when they drop their leaves, and the frosts of winter often cause tender evergreens to suddenly look dead, and then in the spring there is sometimes one plant in a garden that doesn’t leaf out when all the others do, making everyone wonder if it is still alive. It can be hard to tell. Last fall, I planted a Spiraea “Anthony Waterer” that my dad has prematurely declared dead twice already.

We have an easy method for diagnosis: Scratch the bark with a fingernail or blade. The branch should have a bit of green under the bark if the wood is still living, but it will be hard and gray if the wood is dead. Dead wood won’t come back to life, but if there is green wood, we just cut out the dead and wait.

There’s a saying in back-country first aid: No one is dead until they are warm and dead. The human body has the ability to go dormant in extreme cold, and not even doctors can tell the difference between death and extreme stasis; frozen people have occasionally revived after days without a detectable pulse. Plants have even greater dormancy and regenerative powers than humans, so we generally apply that same rule to plants, with June as the approximate plant equivalent of warm. No leafless plant is dead, until it is June, leafless, and dead.

ryan 1/11


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