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Why do Plants Have Leaf Veins?

Published on June 15th 2019
A close up of a green leaf
A woman repotting an Aloe Vera

Easy Houseplants

We may not always realise it, but plants are dependent on veins, much like us. They can be as intricate as the skeletons of old autumn leaves, robust as the midrib on a palm frond, or as delicate as the pattern of a child's leaf print.
As pretty as they can appear, there's much more to them than looks alone - so why do plants have veins?

For transportation

Plants are living beings and, in certain aspects, the veins of a plant act similar to, but not exactly the same as, our own. They transport water and food around the plant to provide it with energy.
Plants draw water and nutrients from the ground through their roots and then up into the body of the plant through their vascular tissues, named the xylem (pronounced: zai-luhm) and phloem (pronounced: flow-em).
The xylem flows from the roots upwards, bringing with it water and nutrients. The phloem, on the other hand, transports food around the plant to wherever it is most needed.
A close up of a giraffe
The skeletal remains of this holly leaf show the web-like maze of veins.

For structure

Unlike us, plant veins also act as a skeleton, supporting the structure of the plant.
This is particularly noticeable in the leaves, where they form delicate patterns, branching into smaller and smaller veins.
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Vascular or non-vascular?

Almost all plants are vascular plants, also known as tracheophytes. That means they have a vascular bundle, consisting of the xylem and phloem, and draw up minerals and water from their roots. Examples of vascular plants are everywhere: trees, bedding plants, flower bulbs, vegetables, roses etc. The list is pretty much endless.
A close up of a green plant
Liverworts do not have veins and are primitive compared to vascular plants.
Non-vascular plants, also called bryophytes, are more primitive than vascular plants. These plants generally grow in moist or wet environments as it is the only way to ensure they have a constant water supply. Mosses, liverworts and hornworts fall into this category.

Vain veins

Plants have evolved some beautiful vein patterning in some species. See if you recognise – or fancy growing – some from the list below:
Italian arum ‘Marmoratum’ (Arum): An outdoor counterpart (and relative) of the indoor kris plant producing winter foliage and autumn berries.
Swiss chard (Beta): An excellent choice for a potager garden, the stalks and veins come in the most vivid shades of red, pink, orange and yellow.
Chinese Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus): Less vigorous and prettier than its Boston ivy relative, the leaves have white veining and turn beautiful red shades in the autumn.
Coral bells ‘Green Spice’ (Heuchera): Low growing perennial with indulgent leaves of green, silver and red.
Milk thistle (Silybum): An unusual, medicinal plant with attractive, silver mottling around the leaf veins.
A group of cauliflower
The robust veins on hostas create a beautiful, sumptuous effect in the garden.
Croton (Codiaeum): Vividly beautiful leaves, often dark green with prominent yellow and red veining.
Nerve plant (Fittonia): A charming, small plant with intricate pink or white veins on little oval leaves.
Zebra plant (Aphelandra): Glossy deep green leaves with startling cream/white veins and yellow flowers.
Herringbone plant (Maranta): A relative of the prayer plants with yellow and red markings on ovate leaves.
Kris plant (Alocasia): Modern and architectural plant with glossy, deep green leaves and prominent, pale veins.
A close up of a flower
This Persian shield (Strobilanthes) has stunning metallic purple leaves with deep veining.

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