Published on May 16, 2020

Leaves Background Images

License Info: Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC

A leaf (plural leaves) is a dorsiventrally flattened organ of a vascular plant and is the principal lateral appendage of the stem, usually borne above ground and specialized for photosynthesis. The leaves and stem together form the shoot. Leaves are collectively referred to as foliage, as in “autumn foliage”.  In most leaves, the primary photosynthetic tissue, the palisade mesophyll, is located on the upper side of the blade or lamina of the leaf[1] but in some species, including the mature foliage of Eucalyptus, palisade mesophyll is present on both sides and the leaves are said to be isobilateral. Most leaves have distinct upper surface (adaxial) and lower surface (abaxial) that differ in color, hairiness, the number of stomata (pores that intake and output gases), the amount and structure of epicuticular wax and other features. Leaves are mostly green in color. This is due to the presence of a compound called chlorophyll. This compound is essential for photosynthesis as it absorbs light energy from the sun. A leaf with white patches or edges is called a variegated leaf.

Leaves can have many different shapes, sizes, and textures. The broad, flat leaves with complex venation of flowering plants are known as megaphylls and the species that bear them, the majority, as broad-leaved or megaphyllous plants. In the clubmosses, with different evolutionary origins, the leaves are simple (with only a single vein) and are known as microphylls. Some leaves, such as bulb scales, are not above ground. In many aquatic species, the leaves are submerged in water. Succulent plants often have thick juicy leaves, but some leaves are without major photosynthetic function and may be dead at maturity, as in some cataphylls and spines. Furthermore, several kinds of leaf-like structures found in vascular plants are not totally homologous with them. Examples include flattened plant stems called phylloclades and cladodes, and flattened leaf stems called phyllodes which differ from leaves both in their structure and origin. Some structures of non-vascular plants look and function much like leaves. Examples include the phyllids of mosses and liverworts.

Leaves are the most important organs of most vascular plants. Green plants are autotrophic, meaning that they do not obtain food from other living things but instead create their own food by photosynthesis. They capture the energy in sunlight and use it to make simple sugars, such as glucose and sucrose, from carbon dioxide and water. The sugars are then stored as starch, further processed by chemical synthesis into more complex organic molecules such as proteins or cellulose, the basic structural material in plant cell walls, or metabolized by cellular respiration to provide chemical energy to run cellular processes. The leaves draw water from the ground in the transpiration stream through a vascular conducting system known as xylem and obtain carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by diffusion through openings called stomata in the outer covering layer of the leaf (epidermis), while leaves are orientated to maximize their exposure to sunlight.


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