Leaves don’t always look like leaves. During the eons that plants have spent on Earth they have found different, and equally important, roles for leaves. Purposes like defense, support and water storage are all additional functions that leaves serve. Spines, scales, tendrils, storage leaves, pitchers and even some roots are all examples of modified leaves.
When other parts of plants have taken up food synthesis, leaves can evolve to fill other needs. In cactus the stems do the majority of food manufacture, so in most cases the leaves have evolved to aid in defense. (When you store water in an arid area you become a bit of a target!)
Pitcher plants naturally grow in nitrogen and phosphorus poor soils. Digesting insects fills their physiological need for additional nutrients that aren’t available in the soil. Guess what insects are rich in? Other plants get these nutrients from decomposing organic matter. Carnivorous plants have just taken to doing the decomposing themselves.
Leaves that are shaped like needles give plants many advantages. They photosynthesize in winter, they collect and conserve water and in some climates they shed snow.
Thick succulent leaves of jade plants- modified leaves. The layers of an onion- modified leaves. The roots of the aquatic Salvinia genus- modified leaves. September’s crate contains three plants that represent the variation in modified plant leaves. Next time you are at your local nursery look around and see what other modified leaves you might be able to find.
September’s Plant Nerd Crate contains the following plants:
Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes ventrata)
Paper Spine Cactus (Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus)
Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)