Leaf Litter and Its Role In Storm Water Management


800px-Eutropis_multifasciata_in_leaf_litterHigh winds and stormy weather seem like a terrible thing to most of us, but these winds help shed leaves from deciduous trees.  These leaves have to be shed.  This is a story about the good things that all those leaves do for the environment (especially in wooded areas, forests, parks and even your backyard). In the city those leaves can be a real problem.  They clog our drains and make the pavement slippery.  But in areas where concrete is NOT the predominant surface, dead leaves are an important part of the ecosystem. Leaves have to be shed from deciduous trees in temperate climates because if they are not, the water in them will freeze and the tree will die as the temperatures drop to below freezing.  To learn more about how and why leaves fall, check out my blog from last month called, “When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall.” When leaves, twigs, bark or other dead organic matter falls to the ground it is called leaf litter.   The leaf litter plays an important role in the ecology of soil.  Leaf litter provides nutrients for microscopic organisms.  As the leaf litter decomposes, nutrients are released into the soil.  In addition, the leaf litter provides food and shelter for spiders, earthworms, pill bugs, millipeds, eggs and larvae of insects and numerous other organisms.  These creatures in turn are the food for toads, frogs, birds and lizards. In addition, leaf litter suppress weeds, reduces the need for fertilizers (the leaves provide nutrients) and irrigation (the leaves hold moisture). Leaf litter has a role in storm water management too.  Earthworms and ants that enjoy the leafy environment actually aerate the soil and encourage water to penetrate the soil.  Healthy soil that has decomposing leaf litter is soil that absorbs water before it becomes runoff.  If runoff occurs, the water often brings with it the pollutants found on land. Water that soaks into the soil finds its way into the water table without bringing along pollutants.  In a wooded area near a stream, soil that is well aerated will absorb water and this absorption will help stop flooding. High winds help us by getting those leaves down to the ground so they can enrich the soil, provide food for animals, and improve water quality. For more information about the importance of leaf litter and to learn about what trees have to do with stream health visit:

 The Stroud Water Research Center,

970 Spencer Road

Avondale, PA 19311

610 268 2153