One of the most beautiful sights in our winter forest is the dried leaves that cling to the twigs of the young beech trees, Fagus grandifolia. This trait of retaining last year’s dead leaves, known as marcescence, is also shared by some oaks. Ecologists have proposed several functions of marcescence: possibly the leaves, dropping and decaying in the springtime just as the tree is starting ist spring growth spurt, serve as a much-needed source of recycled nutrients. Also, there is the chance that the leaves protect the twigs against frost or deer browse. Some hypothesize that beeches and their close relatives the oaks are on their way to becoming fully deciduous, having evolved from evergreen ancestors.
However you look at it, they certainly are a delight. The colors are muted, but the smooth surfaces reflect light, creating bright spots in the winter landscape.