Any flattened, green outgrowth from the stem of a vascular plant. Leaves manufacture oxygen and glucose, which nourishes and sustains both plants and animals. Leaves and stem tissue grow from the same apical bud. A typical leaf has a broad, expanded blade (lamina), attached to the stem by a stalklike petiole. The leaf may be simple (a single blade), compound (separate leaflets), or reduced to a spine or scale. The edge (margin) may be smooth or jagged. Veins transport materials to and from the leaf tissues, radiating from the petiole through the blade. They are arranged in a netlike pattern in dicot leaves and are parallel in monocot leaves (seecotyledon). The leaf's outer layer (epidermis) protects the interior (mesophyll), whose soft-walled, unspecialized green cells (parenchyma) produce carbohydrate food by photosynthesis. In autumn the green chlorophyll pigments of deciduous leaves break down, revealing other pigment colors (yellow to red), and the leaves drop off the tree. Leaf scars that form during wound healing after the leaves drop are useful for identifying winter twigs. In conifers, evergreen needles, which are a type of leaf, persist for two or three years.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on leaf, visit Britannica.com.