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:
Glabrous: smooth, not hairy
Rugose: deeply creased with distinct veins
Farinose: mealy, with a covering of waxy, whitish powder
Glaucous: having a whitish or bluish waxy covering
Scabrose: rough like sandpaper
2. With hairs:
Pubescent: having hairs
Arachnoid: having fine, entangled hairs like a cobweb
Downy: having very short, weak, and soft hairs
Tomentose: having matted, wooly hairs
Hirsute: having coarse, stiff hairs
Hispid: rough with bristles, stiff hairs, or minute prickles
Floccose: having flocks of soft, wooly hairs that tend to rub off
Stellate: having star-shaped 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.