Mother Nature gives us a million shades of green

With trees and shrubs decked out in their spiffy new spring foliage, this is the time of year to appreciate nature’s most important and pervasive color, green.

Georgia’s woods, fields, marshes, swamps and other wild places seem to sport every shade of green imaginable right now. I’m not sure how many tints of green there are, but I suspect that Mother Nature has thousands — perhaps millions — of them on her palette.

To make a long drive less boring last weekend, I began paying attention to the subtle differences in “greenness” along the way (while also keeping my eyes on the road, of course.) When I got home, I scribbled some notes about my observations:

“The darker greens belong mostly to pine trees, particularly loblolly and slash pines. … From my coloring book days, I remember a Crayola crayon called ‘pine green’ because it resembled the color of pines. …

“A shade lighter are the evergreen leaves of Southern wax myrtles. … ‘Myrtle green’ also is the official color of the green stripes on the Waterloo (England) Rugby Club’s shirts. …

“Another dark green shade is that of the shiny leaves of Southern magnolias. I call their color ‘lustrous green’ because of their shininess. …

“Clumps of roadside ferns have a light green tint. A Crayola crayon called ‘fern green’ was created in 1998, long after I gave up coloring books. …”

“There are so many different tints of green among the oaks, hickories, maples, tulip poplars, sweet gums and other hardwoods that there is no way to describe them all. …”

What accounts for all of these different shades? A leaf’s age, shape, health, location and other factors help determine its greenness. Most important, though, is the type of plant. Depending on the species, a plant has different proportions and amounts of chlorophyll pigments, which are the light-capturing substances that make a leaf green.

Chlorophyll is essential for photosynthesis, the process by which green plants make their food and give off oxygen — and makes life on Earth possible.

To appreciate nature’s greenery, I suggest that on a day when sunlight is streaming through the tree canopies, you take a stroll in your neighborhood or in the woods and observe all the shades of green. Like me, you’ll be amazed at the tremendous variety.

IN THE SKY: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will reach a peak of about 20 meteors per hour Saturday night and will continue through Tuesday night, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Look to the southeast from about midnight until dawn.

The moon will be new on May 9. Venus and Jupiter are very low in the west just after dark. Saturn is in the east just after dark. Mercury and Mars cannot be easily seen now.