Leaves: Evolution, Ontogeny, and Death

  • Kihachiro KikuzawaEmail author
  • Martin J. Lechowicz
Part of the Ecological Research Monographs book series (ECOLOGICAL)


The evolutionary origin of leaves traces back to the gradual modification of ­branching systems in the earliest land plants. The vascular plants belonging to the phylum Rhyniophyta that first colonized land more than 400 million years ago had only simple dichotomously branching axes without organs we would recognize as either leaves or roots (Sussex and Kerk 2001). The early evolution of the land plants involved a combination of progressive changes in branching architecture (overtopping) and the associated flattening (plantation, fusion) of some branch elements to form laminar photosynthetic organs that we recognize as leaves (Sussex and Kerk 2001; Boyce and Knoll 2002; Donoghue 2005). Over the course of the Paleozoic, four different vascular plant lineages evolved leaves: the ferns, sphenopsids, progymnosperms, and seed plants (Boyce and Knoll 2002). The leaves of extant members of these lineages are the primary photosynthetic organs in the great majority of plant species. The earliest leaves in all four lineages were small, narrow, and single veined (“microphylls”), arrayed along highly dissected branching systems but larger and broader multiveined leaves (“macrophylls”) gradually become predominant in the fern, gymnosperm, and angiosperm lineages (Boyce and Knoll 2002). The earliest of these land plants are believed to have been evergreen, but by the early Carboniferous Archaeopteris may have had some deciduous characteristics (Addicott 1982; Thomas and Sadras 2001).


Photosynthetic Rate Shoot Growth Photosynthetic Capacity Leaf Emergence Maximum Photosynthetic Rate 
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© Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ishikawa Prefectural UniversityNonoichiJapan
  2. 2.Department of BiologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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