We were having lunch at uni with Michael, as we do, sitting outside, under some lovely big trees, watching squirrels and birds, while Jimmy mashed his cold pizza into our clothes, when I noticed that the leaves we were sitting amongst looked, well, odd and not like the round leaves on the trees above us.
The leaves had a stem at their base and a stem that poked out, about halfway along the leaf. And then I looked closer and discovered that the second stem was actually connected to berries, and in some cases dried flowers, which meant that the leaves were not simply leaves at all!
They protect the developing flowers in their sepals! I'll admit that I was, ok, I am still rather excited, but it's all a little confusing because Michael and I can't work out what to call these leaves... Are they sepals? Well, they house multiple flowers with their own sepals, so no. Are they leaves? Petioles?
Oh it doesn't matter really, but the biologist in me is still interested in working it out. We'd never seen anything like it and were, still are, a little taken by it.
The tree in question is an American Basswood (Tilia americana L.) it's native to Kansas, and many other parts of the USA to the north, south, and east of us.
Thanks go to a pizza smeared Michael for the lovely photos and for finding the links.