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Types of Leaves: Structure & Arrangement

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Instructor: Heather Pier

Heather has taught high school and college science courses, and has a master's degree in geography-climatology.

The two major types of leaves are called simple and compound leaves. Explore the structure, arrangement, and classification of simple and compound leaves and learn about Gingko leaves. Updated: 01/04/2022

Leaves: Definition

From the time we are very young, we are familiar with what leaves look like. But there is more to what makes a leaf a leaf than simply hanging off of a tree or plant. Leaves, in a technical sense, are the parts of a plant's body structure that are most like human organs in how they function. Just like our lungs allow for gas exchange, leaves too allow for gas exchange, as well as many other actions.

But with so many different types of leaves on the planet, how do we classify, or group, them in a scientific sense? There are two main groups of leaves - simple leaves and compound leaves - which are classified according to their shape.

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  • 0:03 Leaves: Definition
  • 0:45 Simple Leaves
  • 1:15 Compound Leaves
  • 2:18 Gingko Leaves
  • 3:02 Lesson Summary
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Simple Leaves

Simple leaves are leaves with undivided blades, which means that each plant leaf is a single piece. The leaf blade includes the entire leaf structure except for the stem, so the blade is essentially the leafy part of the leaf. Simple leaves may have rounded, jagged, or lobed edges. Common examples of simple leaves include those found on oak and maple trees and many fruit plants, like grapes and strawberries.

Compound Leaves

Compound leaves are leaves with divided blades, with multiple leaflets attached to a vein, or central stem, that runs down the middle of the leaflet clusters. A leaflet is a smaller leaf blade that extends from the vein. Leaflets are not independent leaves like simple leaf blades, and because compound leaves contain multiple leaflets they're able to be further classified based on the arrangement of their leaflets.

For example, palmate compound leaves have leaflets that radiate outward from the center of the leaf structure, just like your fingers move outward from the palm of your hand.

Pinnate compound leaves have leaflets arranged symmetrically down the center of the leave structure, where each leaflet appears to be stuck, or pinned, to the central vein.

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