Goldleaf, also known as the Lightning Tree and Miser’s Burden, is an offshoot of the oak family, with a rust-red bark on the trunk and branches; the leaves are a rich green with faint traces of golden veins in the early seasons, but as autumn rolls around the green gives way as the golden hue spreads. In mid to late autumn, the trees often exude a scent of ozone; as the trees begin to shed their leaves, cracks and pops are often heard in the mountains as the dull red acorns are flung from the tree in small bursts of sparks, flying as far away as fifty feet before hitting the ground.
The first of the tree’s collquial names, Lightning Tree, stems from both these bursts of sparks during the late autumn and the way lightning strikes are drawn to the oaks due to their relatively high metal content.
The second name derives from the way the tree’s branches drop and sag in the autumn, giving the entire plant a hunched-over and joyless look as it glistens with golden leaves, much like a miser hoarding coins.
Goldleaf grows most readily in areas where the soil contains relatively high levels of iron and gold; thus the hardiest groves are found alongside streams in the mountains, and their presence is seen as evidence that a hopeful prospector is on the right track to strike it rich. The plants draw on the iron to strengthen their limbs and trunk, and to imbue the acorns with enough of the ferrous metal to respond to electrical charges; the gold is seen primarily in the autumn, as the tree’s leaves become natural photovoltaic panels, building an electrical charge within small nodules that the tree’s acorns hang from. When the charge passes the level that the heavily metallic nodes can contain, they discharge, creating a strong pulse of electromagnetic energy that hurls the nearest acorns away on wild arcs. Living creatures in contact with the tree as this happens are likely to receive a strong electrical shock, enough to stun a grown man.
The leaves are prized when they fall due to the concentrations of gold in them; while a single leaf contains only a tiny amount, the complete shedding of a tree’s leaves are sufficient to fetch a good price from any jeweler or alchemist who has need of gold. Mountain-dwelling races sometimes cultivate the trees as a result, burying pulverized gold ore in the groves and selling the resulting autumnal fall to the lowland races.
Goldleaf wood is also prized by those who know of the remarkably sturdiness of it; used as structural supports, it can ensure a building’s ability to remain standing where those crafted of a more common wood collapse, and the metallic density makes it a difficult material to burn. When it does, however, it tends to release toxic smoke, and the ashes often retain a burning heat for long hours after other materials have gone cold.