Types of Leaves – Broadleaf, Needles, And Scales

types of leaves

This Aspen leaf is a type of broadleaf plant.

There are many different types of leaves, such as broadleaves, needles, and even scales.  Here is an overview on the function of leaves and the different kinds.

Whenever I go outside for a walk I see leaves on plants that come in a huge variety of shapes and types.  During the winter in the Rocky Mountains I mainly only see needles on conifers.  I see a much greater variety of leaves in the summer, including common deciduous trees, such as Oaks or Maples.  All leaves, regardless of the type or shape play a crucial role in the life of the plant.

Types Of Leaves – What Do Leaves Do?

Leaves perform a variety of roles for plants.  One of the main functions of leaves is to carry out photosynthesis in order to produce food for the plant to survive.  That food allows the plant (tree, shrub, wildflower or whatever) to grow, reproduce, and survive.

types of leavesThe Different Types Of Leaves

There are in fact many different types of leaves all of which serve the same function for the plant.  Here are some of the main kinds of leaves that you may encounter.  Note though – I am not talking about leaf structure here, such as simple or compound.  You can read this old post on leaf shapes or the basics of leaf description here.

Plants have these different types of leaves because they have changed and acquired the leaves that will give them the best chance of surviving.  This is similar to how plants grow different shapes and colors of flowers that bloom at different times of the year.  They have different strategies in order to give them the best chance at surviving and reproducing.

types of leaves

Maple leaves are broadleaves.


These are the most common leaves that grow on flowering plants.  They are typically flat and broad, creating a large surface area to capture lots of sunlight and undergo photosynthesis.  These leaves do an excellent job of catching sunlight and creating energy.  However, they can’t survive a cold winter so many of these plants lose their leaves in the fall and regrow them in the spring.

types of leaves

Lodgepole pine trees have needles.


Many conifers have leaves that are shaped liked needles, such as pine needles.  These needles come in a huge variety from the long, thin needles of pine trees to the short, rigid needles of some spruce or fir trees.

A benefit of needles (and scales) is that the plant can keep them all year long even during winter.  This means that the plant can still photosynthesize during winter.  However, a negative of needles is that there is a much smaller surface area than broadleaves, reducing the amount of photosynthesis the plant can undertake.

types of leaves

A juniper tree has scale like leaves.


Some conifers leaves are more like scales than needles.  These scales are tiny overlapping green structures that cover the twigs of the plant.  For example, juniper and cedar trees have scale like leaves.

types of leaves

Grass blades are types of leaves.


I know that grass looks very different than a Maple tree, but the blades of grass are actually the leaves.  Each blade of grass is usually long, thin, and narrow.