Trees Don't Molt, Do They?
October 22, 2012 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Is there a verb in the English language that describes the process of leaves changing color, withering and falling?

Sentence I want to use:

"Every fall I worry about my elm trees taking so long to finish [VERB_I_CANT_THINK_OF]ing."

Words I've considered but reject because I don't feel they describe the entire process (I'm open to arguments):


posted by shew to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Technically when leaves change color it's because the chlorophyll that normally makes a leaf green is degrading, but degrading is kind of a lousy verb to use in this context. What about "transitioning", "transforming", or "phasing"?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:22 PM on October 22, 2012

Turning works. Also changing.

Falling would refer to the part where the leaves actually fall off the tree.

Dying probably works, but is sort of blunt.
posted by Sara C. at 8:23 PM on October 22, 2012

senescence is the word describing the process but it's tough to turn it into a verb. senescing is technically a word but I don't know if people would know it. Maybe? This page has other big words describing the process.
posted by jessamyn at 8:23 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Technically, abscissing, abscising, or abscissioning.
Poetically, autumning.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:26 PM on October 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think "turning" gets the point across and would be understood by all but the most pedantic to mean the entire process from green to ground.
posted by Etrigan at 8:27 PM on October 22, 2012

I thought "autumning", but then thought I was being silly. Also, dying, sleeping, hibernating. Whithering. Shedding. Changing.Turning. Dropping. They all seem appropriate, though some aren't technically correct.
posted by windykites at 8:39 PM on October 22, 2012

Another technical term for this process (well for a slightly different subset of this process) is senescing which is more about leaves turning colors (red/yellow/brown) than abscising, which is more about leaves actually dropping off.

I would just say "every fall I worry about my elm trees taking so long to finish dropping their leaves," though. Botanists say that sort of thing all the time, even in the company of other botanists.
posted by Scientist at 9:44 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if this is a recommended usage question, it's leaves that turn, drop, change, or senesce in the fall. People do say trees senesce in this context but with the added sense of being dormant throughout winter. A tree does finish turning colors, abscising its leaves, or dropping its leaves in the fall.

But I'm afraid I took this as an Oulipian puzzle where it had to be a single word, a verb with no object, that remained in bounds semantically even if some liberties with transitivity and grammatical conversion were necessary to get there. That's not exactly the beaten path, I guess, but I figure this ain't Yahoo Answers.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:24 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

"every fall I worry about my elm trees taking so long to finish defoliating"


- "to finish pre-hibernating"
- "to finish their predictive dormancy"
I guess you could say "to finish exfoliating" (although this has"skin-care" feel to it)
- "to finish their autumnal excretion". Not beautiful, but I have always thought of this process as one of the characteristics of life, excretion. That's how trees rid themselves of waste products.
- If you have hibernation (winter) and vernalization (spring), you could also have autumnising (fall)
posted by guy72277 at 1:00 AM on October 23, 2012

When my daughter was three she told me that the leaves had become tired. You're welcome to use it!
posted by sianifach at 1:08 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Shedding is the right word here. It not only covers the deed of falling, but also imparts the feeling of a whole process which the tree "does".
posted by Jehan at 7:02 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
posted by verstegan at 2:53 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

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