Block of the Week: Leaves

Don't like this block? It'll grow on you

Not to toot our own horn, but the forests of Minecraft are among the most beautiful in all of videogames (suck it, Oxenfurt forest!) Calm, still, dark, and full of building materials - with only the occasional zombie crawling out of a cave to disrupt the tranquillity. If I could only take one Minecraft biome with me to a desert island, it would be forest (making it a forest island, I suppose), providing me with a steady supply of our Block of Week - leaves!

Leaves were one of Minecraft's earliest additions, arriving alongside logs, ores and sand way back in 2009 in version 0.0.14a_01. They've changed a lot over time, first being tweaked to drop saplings, then to decay when deprived of their trunk, then to drop apples, then even to have water drip through them when it's raining!

You might have noticed that there are actually lots of different kinds of leaf in Minecraft - six in total. There are broad oak leaves, thinner spruce leaves, light birch, leafy acacia and dark oak, and finally chunky jungle leaves. You might also have noticed that leaf colour changes a little depending on what biome you're in - a little trick that helps give each biome its own personality.

Natural leaves (not ones you've placed yourself) have a chance of decaying every tick as long as they're more than four blocks away from a block of wood. You can harvest them with either shears or a tool enchanted with Silk Touch - otherwise, you'll just break them. About every 20th leaf block that breaks will drop a sapling of the same type, while jungle leaves only drop saplings every 40th block. About every 200th block of oak or dark oak leaves will drop an apple. Tasty! Totally worth having to destroy 200 blocks for! Wait. No it isn't. What a con!

Leaves are pretty incredible things. They let trees and plants breathe and absorb sunlight - sucking in polluting carbon dioxide and turning them into oxygen. Some trees keep their leaves all year round - they're known as evergreen - while others drop them in a colourful display in the autumn and regrow them in the spring.

The reason that some leaves change colour in the autumn is because they're getting ready for winter. In the spring and summer, a tree makes food for itself using sunlight and a chemical called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is green, which is why leaves are green. In the autumn, though, the days get shorter and so the chlorophyll isn't so useful any more and it disappears. As it does, they reveal their true colours - yellow, red and orange - and eventually drop to the ground.

So next time you're strolling through a park in the autumn, you're seeing what the trees really look like, underneath their chlorophyll clothes. Don't blush! The trees are turning red enough already...