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The Value of Leaves

Martin Bennett

The colour of leaves is often over looked by most people when choosing a plant for the garden, eg. leaves are green, but there are many shades of green. There are leaves that are smooth and glossy and those that are smooth and hairy. Leaves that are slightly rough, to leaves that are so rough they can be used as sandpaper. There are leaves that smell of citrus, aniseed, nutmeg, mango, celery, and those that have a simply fruity smell.

The underside of leaves is also important, as these can be very visible when blown by the wind. Some are covered with fine hairs that are white, silver, brown or a coppery colour.

Leaf shape varies from narrow, broad, short, long, and there are those that have quite irregular shapes even within the same plant. Some are pointed, others blunt. Leaves that have angled sides can be smooth, but some may have prickles on those angles. Even pungent tips are found on some.

One of the diagnostic features of plants is the colour of dead or dying leaves, as not all leaves turn the same colour when they die.

Leaves can turn red, yellow, light and dark brown, which can add some colour to the garden when there is little else of colour available.

Colourful leaf
Even a dead, fallen eucalypt leaf can be a thing of beauty

Leaves, particularly in rainforest communities and also gardens, are valuable as mulch to keep the ground cool, retain moisture and return some goodness via worms and their castings to the soil and therefore the plants.

So next time you choose a plant check out the leaves and see where it may be best used in your garden.

From the Society for Growing Australian Plants (Queensland) Region's 'Bulletin', December 2003.

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