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Simple Leaves

The flat, light-intercepting part of a leaf is called the blade. It may be directly attached to a stem at its base, or, the blade may be attached to the stem by a narrow stalk called a petiole. There is almost always a bud (tiny growing point) found in the angle between the petiole and the stem (leaf axil). A simple leaf (Figure 3) consists of one blade and (usually) a petiole that connects the blade to the stem.

The edge of the leaf blade is called the leaf blade margin. There are many different types of leaf margins. A few examples include: Smooth (Figure 4), Saw-Toothed (serrate—Figure 5), very Irregular (Figure 6), and even Armed with sharp spines (Figure 7).

The leaf blade typically has a characteristic shape or form, e.g. Round (Figure 8), Oval (Figure 9), Elliptical (Figure 10), Lance (Figure 11), Heart/Cordate (Figure 12A), or Linear (Figure 12B). The leaf surface may be smooth (Figure 13), or wrinkled/rugose (Figure 14), or covered with hairs (pubescent/tomentose, Figure 15) or wax (glaucous, Figure 16).

Figure 3: Simple LeafFigure 3: Simple Leaf Figure 4: Smooth Leaf MarginFigure 4: Smooth Leaf Margin Figure 5: Saw-Toothed Edge Leaf MarginFigure 5: Saw-Toothed Edge Leaf Margin
Figure 6: Very Irregular Leaf MarginFigure 6: Very Irregular Leaf Margin Figure 7: Sharp Spines on Leaf MarginFigure 7: Sharp Spines on Leaf Margin Figure 8: Round LeafFigure 8: Round Leaf
Figure 9: Oval LeafFigure 9: Oval Leaf Figure 10: Elliptical LeavesFigure 10: Elliptical Leaves Figure 11: Lance Shaped LeavesFigure 11: Lance Shaped Leaves
Figure 12A: Heart Shaped or Cordate LeafFigure 12A: Heart Shaped or Cordate Leaf Figure 12B: Linear Shaped LeafFigure 12B: Linear Shaped Leaf Figure 13: Smooth Leaf SurfaceFigure 13: Smooth Leaf Surface
Figure 14: Wrinkled Leaf SurfaceFigure 14: Wrinkled Leaf Surface Figure 15: Hairy Leaf SurfaceFigure 15: Hairy Leaf Surface Figure 16: Wax Covered Leaf SurfaceFigure 16: Wax Covered Leaf Surface


Water and mineral nutrients from the soil are moved about in the leaf blade through “veins”, which are usually in patterns characteristic of the particular plant from which the leaf was taken. Three major venation patterns in simple leaves are “palmate”, “pinnate”, or “parallel” (Figure 17, left to right).

Figure 17: Palmate, Pinnate and Parallel Leaf VariationsFigure 17: Palmate, Pinnate and Parallel Leaf Variations

Typically there is a prominent central vein (the midrib) running from the leaf base to its tip. In broadleaf plants (Dicots) there are typically many smaller veins that originate from both sides of the midrib and spread outwards towards the leaf margin in a pattern similar to that exhibited by the feather of a bird. This is called pinnate venation. The leaf of a Breadfruit Tree (Figure 18) is a pinnately veined leaf, as is the leaf of Croton (Figure 19). If there are several large veins in a leaf and they all originate at the leaf base, then the venation pattern is called palmate (Figure 20). (This is in reference to the fingers of our hands originating from one place—the palm.) The leaf of the Kukui Nut Tree shown to the left in Figure 20 has palmate venation.

Narrow-leaf plants (Monocots) produce leaves with parallel venation—typically running parallel to the midrib along the whole length of the usually linear leaf (Figure 21).

Figure 18: Pinnate Venation in BreadfruitFigure 18: Pinnate Venation in Breadfruit Figure 19: Pinnate Venation in Croton
Figure 20: Palmate Venation in Kukui Nut (left) and CottonFigure 20: Palmate Venation in Kukui Nut (left) and Cotton Figure 21: Parallel VenationFigure 21: Parallel Venation

The location on the stem where the leaf is attached is called a “node”. There may be just one leaf per node—the most common—(alternate or spiral, Figure 22), or two (opposite, Figture 23), or even three or more—relatively uncommon—(whorled, Figures 24 and 25).

Figure 22: Stems with Alternately Arranged LeavesFigure 22: Stems with Alternately Arranged Leaves Figure 23: Stems with Opposite Arranged LeavesFigure 23: Stems with Opposite Arranged Leaves
Figure 24: Whorled Leaf Arrangement in GardeniaFigure 24: Whorled Leaf Arrangement in Gardenia Figure 25: Whorled Leaf Arrangement in AllamandaFigure 25: Whorled Leaf Arrangement in Allamanda

LEAVES (page 1)



PALM LEAVES (page 4)


Come to the World Botanical Gardens and see examples of all of these and more for yourself. Even better, click here to book a guided tour with the author, the Garden Director, Dr. Lanny Neel or call our visitor center toll free at 888-947-4763. We are open from 9 to 5:30 every day of the year.

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