One day in the garden, I became obsessed with the different shapes of the leaves on our plants.

The sunflowers caught my attention first. The leaves extending from the stalks underneath the giant flowers were the size of dinner plates. Yet the leaves of the basil in the next row grew only to the size of a circle from a hole-puncher.

All summer, I had identified plants in the gardens by recognizing the fruit they produced. When curious about what other people planted, I looked for something familiar – a bean, tomato, eggplant or squash.

But during one tour of the gardens with my mother, we came across a plot planted in rows of vegetation we didn’t recognize. No fruit was visible among the heart-shaped leaves. Anything we guessed – carrots? beans? melons? – made no sense. Periodic checks revealed no answers or hints of what was planted.

Weeks later, I found two fellow gardeners working with shovels in the perplexing plot. I casually walked down to observe what they were doing. As far as I could tell, there was nothing to harvest. But mystery solved, they were digging up sweet potatoes.

All along, the answer was in the leaves.

If you asked me today to draw a tomato leaf, I’d be stumped. My memory could not identify an okra leaf or a jalapeno leaf or a cucumber leaf. Most likely, I could draw a spinach or lettuce leaf. But I eat those.

I look to leaves all the time to determine whether a plant needs watering or to find clues of invasive insects.
Leaves are key to revealing a plant’s secrets. They deserve more attention than they get.



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