Survival through Adaptation

Looking at Leaves

Leaf Texture

What Can Leaf Texture Tell Us?

Dark green leaves with water beading on them.

Philodendron goeldii

Succulent leaves covered in white hairs. The leaves have dark spots on the tips.

Kalanchoe tomentosa. Photo by Rebecca Kon.

Large, dark green, vertical leaf.

Anthurium sagittatum. Photo by Rebecca Kon.

Plant with pale succulent leaves. The leaves have spine-like growths on the edges and backsides.

Aloe brevifolia. Photo by Rebecca Kon.

Leaves float on the surface of the water

Aquatic plants

A long dark green leaf with white spine-like growths on the edge. Another similar leaf curls over the leaf.

Pandanus pristis. Photo by Rebecca Kon.

A large number of small, bright, whitish green succulent leaves grow vertically.

Senecio talinoides ssp. mandraliscae. Photo by Rebecca Kon.

Questions & Prompts

  • Which leaves do you think grow in hot, dry conditions? Which leaves do you think grow in wet, shady conditions? Why?

  • Identify patterns between the leaves. What can these patterns tell you?

  • Choose one of the leaves above. Draw the leaf with as much detail as possible. Can people guess which leaf you chose based on your drawing?

  • Choose one of the leaves above. Write a descriptive paragraph. Can people guess which leaf you chose based on your writing?

  • What similarities do you see? What differences?

  • Describe the plant that you think made each of these leaves. How big is the plant? Where does it live? Does anything eat this plant?

  • Do any of these leaves look like the leaves in your community?


Some leaves are covered in tiny hairs to protect them from strong sunlight, winds, or hungry animals. Other leaves are waxy and smooth, helping to keep moisture inside the plant. Hairs, ridges, and waxy coatings protect leaf surfaces from too much sun by creating shade and reflecting light.

Tropical rainforests are very wet. Tropical rainforest plants often have a waxy coating on their leaves to repel water. In wet habitats, a waxy leaf surface can make the water run quickly off of a leaf. Deserts have very little water. Desert plants often have a waxy covering on their leaves to reduce water loss through the leaf surface. Desert plants often have sharp armor to provide shade and protection. Aquatic plants usually have very soft, delicate leaves because they do not have to deal with water shortages.