Leaf Anatomy and Function

  • Riichi OguchiEmail author
  • Yusuke Onoda
  • Ichiro Terashima
  • Danny Tholen
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 44)


Plant leaves provide the following main functions: (1) light interception and utilization of light energy for photosynthesis. This includes efficient light absorption under low and moderate light, while reducing excess light absorption under high light. (2) Incorporating CO2 as the substrate of photosynthesis, while limiting the amount of water lost. (3) Maintaining a stable internal environment for physiological processes by modulating leaf temperature. (4) Maintaining structural integrity that allows leaves to photosynthesize under various mechanical stresses such as gravity, wind, rainfall and herbivory. (5) Transporting water, photosynthates, and nutrients to realize efficient functioning of the plant and the leaf.

Subjected to both anatomical and environmental constraints, natural selection has resulted in an intricate leaf anatomy that balances the above functions and allows plants to grow and produce progeny. As a result, plants coordinate size, number, shape, and arrangement of cells, adjust the thickness and chemical composition of cell walls, and utilize physical phenomena such as water evaporation, refraction, and reflection of light.

In the present chapter, common features of leaf anatomy are described and the current knowledge related to its functions is summarized. Special emphasis will be given to leaf optical properties, gas diffusion, water transport, and mechanical properties. Acclimation and adaptation of leaf anatomy in response to environmental conditions will be reviewed. In addition, we will discuss the physiological mechanisms and ecological significance of these responses.



a dimensionless correction factor to account for the fact that the mesophyll thickness is not equal to the effective distance between stomata and chloroplasts because of the spacing of stomata on the leaf surface and the presence of CO2 sinks along the diffusion path


bundle-sheath extensions


a dimensionless empirical coefficient, linking the boundary layer thickness to windspeed, leaf width, and air viscosity


CO2 concentration inside the leaf


leaf width measured in the direction of the wind


diffusion coefficient of CO2 through air


diffusion coefficient of water vapor


Young’s modulus in a bending test


Young’s modulus of the mesophyll


Young’s modulus of the epidermis


Young’s modulus in a tensile test


conductance through intercellular airspaces


mesophyll conductance


stomatal conductance


high-light apex


air with nitrogen replaced by helium


plants grown in high light


plants grown in high light then transferred to low light


mesophyll thickness


low-light apex


leaf dry mass per area


wavelengths of light absorbed by chlorophyll and utilized in photosynthesis


resistance of CO2 to diffusion in the intercellular air space


resistance of CO2 to diffusion in mesophyll liquid phase


ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase


solubility of CO2 in apoplastic water


chloroplast surface area facing intercellular spaces per unit leaf area


a material specific constant that links the tortuosity factor to the porosity of a porous structure


thickness fraction of the mesophyll


the ratio of Young’s modulus of the mesophyll tissue to that of the epidermis, Ec /Ef


boundary layer thickness


porosity of the leaf


tortuosity factor


wind speed


kinematic viscosity of air



We thank Dr. Chieko Saito, Dr. Dagmar Voigt, Ms. Elinor Goodman, Dr. Margaret Barbour, Dr. Shinichi Miyazawa, Dr. Shinya Wada, Dr. Susanne Scheffknecht, Dr. Youshi Tazoe, and Dr. Xiaofeng Yin for their leaf anatomical photographs. We thank Dr. Chris Muir, Dr. Jaume Flexas, Ms. Natascha Luijken, and Dr. Thomas D. Sharkey for their helpful comments on the manuscript and Dr. Flexas and Dr. Muir for making available additional data on leaf anatomy.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Riichi Oguchi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yusuke Onoda
    • 2
  • Ichiro Terashima
    • 3
  • Danny Tholen
    • 4
  1. 1.Graduate School of Life SciencesTohoku UniversitySendaiJapan
  2. 2.Graduate School of AgricultureKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  3. 3.Graduate School of ScienceThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan
  4. 4.Institute of Botany, Department of Integrative Biology and Biodiversity ResearchUniversity of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) ViennaViennaAustria

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