Have you ever wandered around your backyard wondering which leaves were poisonous and
which aren't? Ever taken a walk through a woodland and pondered at all the different types of leaves. You don't
have to be a botanist to know how to identify a leaf; you do have to get to know the look and feel of a leaf to
properly identify it.
The shape, color and feel of a leaf is very important to the process of photosynthesis for
a plant. First, we will divide leaves into two categories: Broad leaves and Narrow leaves. Broad leaves typically
have a wide blade to them. They even sometimes have very visible veins to them such as a maple or an apple tree.
Narrow leaves are obviously slender; these leaves are scale-like or needle like a pine or juniper tree. Let's
divide that even further. Broad leaves come first so that's what we are currently looking at. Leaves has two main
parts the blade and the stalk or pestiole. We can tell a lot about a plant if we look at how the leaves are
scattered or arranged along the stalk and stem. Remember, all leaves on one plant may vary in size, color and
sometimes shape. The leaves closer to the ground might look a great deal different than the ones that are at the
tip top of a plant reaching toward the sun every day.
There are two main patterns and one lesser pattern that will identify a plant for us.
Alternate leaves have a single attachment at one location on the stalk. These leaves will alternate side to side
along the stalk or be in a spiral pattern of alternation. Trees that have leaves like this are an alder, a magnolia
or a hawthorn. The second pattern of leaves is opposite. This refers to two leaves attached at the exact location
on the stalk; but are opposite one another. Trees that have leaves like this are the dogwood and the ash. Last but
not least there is the whorled arrangement. Sounds similar to alternated but these leaves grow in more than two at
the same location.
Still there? Good. After we've learned the patterns in which leaves grow and the types of
leaves that plants can have we go further still in looking at how we can identify leaves. We can tell a lot about a
leaf by how many blades it has. A simple leaf is one that has just the on leaf blade or structure. A compound leaf
is one that has multiple leafy blades or structures. If that's not enough then there is more than one compound type
leaf out there. One such is palmately and that means that there are three or more leaflets at the end of the stalk.
The other is pinnately which means that there is a number of leaflets attaches along the sides of the stalk.
Different leaves can have different edges on them. We do need to pay particular attention to the edges because the
edge of a leaf can tell us the difference between a red-bud and a maple. The edges have been classified as lobed or
not lobed. Which simply means that if a leaf is lobed it has a curved or rounded projection on it. Without lobes
means a smooth edge of a leaf.
Now for the narrow leaves. Narrow leaves as we know can be scale-like or needle like.
There is a distinct between them. Scale-like leaves are small short and overlap one another on the stalk. They are
often displayed as two, three, or four leaves per node. To sort this out you should have a magnifying glass handy.
Now, the needle type leaves are attached in a few different ways. The first is a single attachment; these are
obviously directly attached to the stalk. This is most common in True Firs. The second is a bundle. These leaves
group together in two, three or five leaves per bundle. Yes, specific trees have specific number bundles to them.
Then there are clusters, the big boys. These leaves come together in groups of more than five. That is to say that
they can grow in cluster of thirty, for instance.
It's a lot to take in; but here's the interesting part. Most people want to know only
about poisonous plants. Poison ivy, poison oak and such as that are at the top of the list. Let's help you out with
that. Starting with poison oak. This plant is very diverse and sneaky at hiding in all of the seasons. It changes
color to accommodate it's environment. There are over six hundred species of this particular nasty plant. The
leaves are generally in a spiral pattern, with lobed margins and serrated or smooth edges.
Poison Ivy should be a common enough plant to spot but, surprise there are still loads of
people who don't know what this plant looks like or how to identify it. The juvenile leaf is lobed and the adult
leaf is lobed. The leaves always grow in a group of three, there is a slight almond-shape to the leaves and the
color can be light to dark green. During the autumn months the leaf can turn red. These leaves have a smooth
surface and the edges have little to no teeth.
"If there be three, leave it be." That is a common saying among outdoors men, hikers, and
campers. However, there are a few plants and flowers that would surprise people if they only knew. Did you know
that daffodils, azaleas, and oleander are all poisonous. It's definitely something to watch out for when you are
wandering around outside and see a plant that is not quite recognizable as something that was intentionally
planted. Take a magnifying glass outside with you and ask yourself some very important questions about this plant,
poisonous or not, that has invaded your space. Check the size and shape of the leaf. Is the leaf of the plant
needle or scale-like? Are the leaves broad with veins running through it? How are the leaves arranged along the
stalk of the twig? Are they growing from the top or along the sides of the twig?
It is always a good idea to get to know your surroundings and environment. One day you
might be in need of a certain plant and if you know what to look for it will be that much easier to find. Most
people laugh at the idea of being somewhere alone and having to live off the land for a bit. Then there are people
that do it everyday. Knowing how to identify plant leaves or flowers is a good start on something wonderful. There
is no telling what can be accomplished when we start paying real attention the beauty around us every day. Leaves
are very important to plants because they are what filters the sunlight. Leaves are important to use because we use
them everyday. Do you drink tea? It's still a plant. When you wander remember your leaf identification tips and you
should do fine. Remember the rule of three and your magnifying glass to really get a good look at what's going on