When Trees Have High Glucose Levels...

Diabetes is everywhere.

Even on my vacation to Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

We escaped from work and regular life here in Indiana for about 10 days recently, heading up across the mighty Mackinac Bridge to a place I had never been. While we stayed mostly on the eastern side of the UP and settled in Michigan's first city known as Sault Ste Marie (the Soo), we also ventured into the central UP to experience the magic of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along Lake Superior and other places around there.

One of the most breath-taking experiences you can find in this part of the country, aside from just the incredible history and soul-enriching water that is everywhere, is getting a glimpse of the changing colors of the Fall Foliage. The trees and the changing colors of the leaves are just... awesome.

Fall is beautiful in many places throughout the country, and I haven't personally been to places on the East Coast or more West of Michigan and Indiana to see for myself how they compare. But in my post-college years of working the state and local environmental beat for a local newspaper, I've heard many people "in the know" about those kind of things (read: tree experts and nature-observers) say Michigan's got most beat. Why's that? Simply, because of the changing temps and all the water of the fresh water from the Great Lakes that surround the state and effect the seasonal changes and trees more than most.

The trees "explode in a frenzy of color," as some describe it, like Tim Allen in this Pure Michigan ad

#PureMichigan, indeed.

But, why do the leaves change?

That's a question that I thought I knew, but realized during our trip it all goes back to long-forgotten and jumbled bits of info from 9th grade science class. And that fun little process known as photosynthesis. My memory has just enough in there to know it's all about plants and oxygen, and that all plays into why leaves change colors when the temps change outside.

But what I had forgotten (assuming I learned it at all) from back in the day was that glucose is a part of that leaf color-changing process. And yes, with diabetes more on my mind these days (hello, sometimes it feels like my whole world!), you get where my brain took that next.

"No kidding, the trees have high blood sugars and that's why the leaves change!" I may have blurted out as we drove through the UP, in response to Suzi rattling off that info she found online.

At that exact moment, I was behind the wheel and she was in the passenger seat, Googling the question "Why do leaves change colors?" thanks to a stray data connection we managed to find on that drive in the middle of the UP.

"Diabetes is everywhere... I just can't escape it!" may have been what came from my mouth next.
I could feel her eyes rolling from the passenger seat.

Here's what we found through our web search.

Just like us, trees use glucose as food for energy and growth. And through photosynthesis, the trees turn water and carbon dioxide into water and sugar. A chemical called chlorophyll helps make photosynthesis happen, and it's that chlorophyll that gives plants their green color seen throughout most of the year.

As it's described in Science Made Simple:
As the bright green fades away, we begin to see yellow and orange colors. Small amounts of these colors have been in the leaves all along. We just can't see them in the summer, because they are covered up by the green chlorophyll. The bright reds and purples we see in leaves are made mostly in the fall. In some trees... glucose is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn cause the leaves turn this glucose into a red color.

And so naturally, the higher the glucose levels in a particular tree and its leaves, the more those leaves will see beautifully-changing colors like reds and purples.

So, there's the Science 101 on Trees and Fall Foliage.

Diabetes on the brain, and in the leaves, and... well, you get it.

Vacation's are great to escape from many things, but of course those of us in the Faulty Pancreas line don't get a break from living with D.

For the record, I had to look at my CGM while were were talking about all of this in the car - and I happened to be in the mid 100s. A smile came to my lips, even as I had to agree with my wife that I'm pretty much a nerd. And I had no problem letting my inner D-nerd lose while on vacation.

Hey, that's what vacations are for!

I promise to share more about our vacation soon, because it was really great and we had so much fun in the UP. And yes, I did drink quite a bit of coffee and a whole bunch of Michigan microbrews that I'd never tried before... stay tuned for more on all of that!

And with that, I'm now going to make like a tree, and get outta here... (after some obligatory nature-related pics from our trip).

Upper Tahquamenon Falls

At the Grand Island Harbor Overlook

Couple selfie at Munising Falls.

At the Munising Falls, along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Rainy day view from 200-foot tall Tower of History overlooking the Soo Locks.

I'm a fan of this pic of me at the Soo's Lockview Care, with background trees.

Sunset on South Bay, near Grand Island along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.


Scott E said…
So does this mean that, if I flood a tree with insulin, it will stay green all winter? (Not likely, but it does make me think of a possible litmus test to see if insulin is still good..)
Mike Hoskins said…
That's the same thing I thought, Scott, except it was along the lines of "If I inject glucagon into the tree trunk, can I turn the leaves more red and purple quicker?!" Ha! Great minds. :)
Judi said…
You have some beautiful picture in here.

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