It’s All In The Leaves

Plants are amazing things. We all know this, don’t we? Their amazingness comes in all shapes and forms but in many ways, it begins and ends with the leaf.  According to Kew Gardens there are around 400 000 known plant species in the world, meaning that there are over 400 000 different leaf types. Holy hell! Leaves are like a plants eyes. Gaze at them long enough and you can learn plenty about the plants’ likes, dislikes, future dreams and shady past.

Simply observing a leaf can tell us whether a plant likes sunbaking in the nude or hiding in dark, moist corners. We can learn how much a plant likes to drink, how it stores its nourishment, and what creatures enjoy nibbling on its limbs.

Armed with this valuable information we can then go about trying NOT TO KILL the little guy. Unlike people, you can’t really get away with giving plants what you think they need. They will probably die. You gotta give them what they actually need.

Observation is key. Here are some leafy guidelines to help you understand your plants by gazing at their leaves.

Crassula ovata

Succulents are smart buggers. Its fairly clear just by looking at them that they come from very dry areas. Why?? Because, like camels, they have a special water storage system in their leaves to get them through extended periods of dryness. So, if you have a succulent plant, and if you are wondering whether to water it, don’t. Just stick it in the sun and water occasionally, like once every couple of weeks, or months. Or just wait for it to rain. Treat ‘em mean, keep em green.

Plectranthus argentatus

Hairy leaves probably means your plant does not originate from an area of high rainfall. Hairs on the leaf surface are used to trap humidity and reduce moisture loss. In fact, you could probably forget to water it for a few weeks and it will forgive you. Yes, there is plenty to like about hairy leafed plants.

From the size and fleshiness of this leaf we can assume that the plant probably originated in a semi-shaded area (big leaves = shade, small leaves = sun) and that it will tolerate not much watering.

Stick this guy in a semi shaded spot and water when you remember. Bam. Happy plant!

Senecio spp.

Grey/silver leafed plants generally originate from hot, sunny areas. The light colour of their leaves reflect sun and therefore reduce moisture loss. There are always exceptions to the rule, but you could generally assume that if its got grey leaves, stick it in the sun.


Peperomia argyreia

Plants that have evolved in shady and dark spots generally have big leaves. Why? Because there ain’t much light there. And plants need light to photosynthesize. So…. the bigger the leaf, the more light it can catch. The more light, the more photosynthesis.

These plants are the trashy hollywood stars of the plant world. Always searching for the light with their big, glossy and bright leaves fighting for attention.

Put them in the dark, water regularly and watch them shine!

Themeda triandra

Hopefully you’re getting the hang of this by now?? So, grasses have very skinny little leaves. Why, because they generally originate in open, sunny spots and have evolved to reduce transpiration by minimising the surface area of their leaves. They are often very hairy too, again to aid water retention. Now, when we meet in the street and you discover I am a landscape designer you won’t need to ask me why your lawn won’t grow in the darkest, shadiest corner of your garden, will you? Instead, you will be thanking me for your new awareness of your lawn’s desires.


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Syzygium spp.

Everyone likes a bit of bling. Especially rainforest plants. Like the big leaved plants above, the shiny guys are all about catching as much light as possible in a generally dark environment, such as a rainforest. The dull green undersides of these leaves help to reduce water loss, as does the waxy leaf surface.

Rosmarinus officinalis

Big is not always best, you know. Especially if you are living on a hot, dry hillside in Greece. Plants such as Rosemary have adapted to their harsh living environments by reducing the size of their leaves. Smaller leaves equals less water loss.

You know what to do with this one. Forget about sunscreen, put it out in the midday sun and let it burn. Except it won’t. It will be happy as a pig in mud. Or planty equivalent.

Euphorbia mammillaris

Living in the mediterranean is a walk in the park compared to living in the desert in Southern Africa. See those teeny tiny little leaves at the tip of the above plant, and huge water reservoir in the trunk of the plant? This guy needs plenty of sun and not much water.

Look at your plants. I mean, really look at your plants. And then think. Use this little story as a starting point to gaining a deeper understanding of your leafy friends. Of course a cactus will die if you put it in your bathroom. You are not a black thumb, just not being as observant as you could be. Try again with a big, shiny, blingy plant and you will be happy. So will the plant. Thats that.