Looking Closely: Patterns Within an Eastern Redbud

Since first coming to Princeton, I have always been intrigued by the trees here. In fact, for my EEB325 (Ecology: Species Interactions, Biodiversity and Society) class, I chose to do my course project on leaf senescence of native versus non-native tree species at Princeton University.

While walking to the hockey rink recently, looking for an organism to investigate, I took a picture of this tree with beautiful heart-shaped leaves. Even though I pass by this tree almost everyday, I’m not sure if I ever noticed or realized that its leaves are heart-shaped until I took a closer look and attempted to identify it. Unfortunately, the Seek app did not help me identify it, but with the help of Google, Google Images, and the Trees of Eastern North America book, I have since concluded that it must be an Eastern Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis).

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis).

Clearly, this Eastern Redbud has been planted outside the player entrance of Hobey Baker rink for aesthetic purposes, and I would say that it is indeed aesthetically pleasing, even in the fall when it has lost most of its leaves.

Beautiful heart-shaped leaves!

Since the course project I’ve been working on is relatively large-scale, I thought it would be interesting to investigate an Eastern Redbud tree at a very small-scale. Thanks to my Foldscope instrument, I was able to do this easily and efficiently.

Above are some of the best pictures I was able to take of an Eastern Redbud leaf through the Foldscope lens, which provides incredible magnification despite being less than a centimeter thick. Through the microscopic lens, you can easily and clearly see the interesting micro-vein pattern of the leaf, as well as two different thicknesses of veins that run through the leaf. (Interestingly, the micro-vein pattern of the leaf reminds me of the pattern on my glass shower from home (picture 2).)

Moreover, in the rightmost two pictures, within the thicker, perpendicular veins is another “pattern,” which I suspect exhibits the cells that make up the veins. Here is a bit of a closer look:

A closer look at the pattern within the veins themselves.

If the pattern within the veins does distinguish actual cells, it appears that the cells are ovular/elongated in shape rather than circular.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a “pattern” is defined as “a repeated form or design.” I think it’s interesting how this tree has different patterns at different scales. As a whole, the tree’s leaves themselves are repeated forms that can be considered to constitute a pattern. Within each leaf is a network of very tiny veins that also make-up a clear pattern, similar to the one on my shower’s glass. Furthermore, within each vein, we have seen yet another pattern, and I imagine that zooming in even further will reveal even more patterns. This leads me to question: in a universe that tends towards disorder (the Second Law of Thermodynamics), why do organisms consist of regular (ordered) patterns at small scales and larger scales?

However, my biggest takeaway from this small investigation is that ecology truly is everywhere. There is so much you can observe and investigate and question right where you are; sometimes, you just have to look a little closer.

I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University.

-Sarah Verbeek


Nelson, G., Earle, C. J., & Spellenberg, R. (2014). Trees of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press.


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