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Botany for Gardeners: The Leaf-Texture

Lamb's ear & magnolia 'Little Gem'

Texture is one of several leaf characteristics that is used for plant identification, but it is even more important in garden design. Leaves may be leathery, hairy, smooth and shiny, and this texture can add significant variety to the garden bed or flower arrangement. Compare a magnolia leaf to a leaf of lamb’s ear. The former is smooth and shiny and the latter is hairy. Sure the color is different but even if you saw the two leaves in a black and white photo you could see the difference in texture. Botanists have developed a set a terms to describe the various texture of the leaf surface. The goal here is to become aware of some of the possible types of textures that leaves may have.  Knowing some of the variations in leaf texture might even spark an interest in searching for more.

Here are some of the common terms with a few interesting ones thrown in.  Having hair or not having hair is a biggy so I divided the terms into these two groups.

1. Without hairs:

2. With hairs:

Notice how many different kinds of hairiness there are; and this is only part of the list. Some terms overlap each other and more than one term can be used to describe a particular leaf. Some of the differences in hairiness can easily be seen with the naked eye but others are more appreciated with a hand lens, microscope, or electron microscope.

Touching the leaves is a great way to appreciate the various textures and their differences. This characteristic of leaves is especially important to the visually challenged but everyone can benefit from learning to appreciate foliage with more than the sense of sight. I stroke my plants whenever I visit my garden; yes, and sometimes I get pieced by a thorn or stung by a bumble bee. But it’s worth it.

Botany for Gardeners  Pointer

Recommended Reading:

From Seed to Plant
Trees: Their Natural History
Oh Say Can You Seed?