What are True Leaves?

Posted on Jun 7 2011 - 2:34am by Mike Lieberman

When you read information on seed packets and other garden related materials, you might come across the term “true leaves.”

Screenshot 2014-04-14 17.25.26If you are anything like me, you might be wondering what they hell that means and if there are fake leaves.

When seedlings sprout, often there are two-sets of leaves that form first. They look almost four-leaf clover like. A few days later a third single leaf will emerge that doesn’t look like the first two. That’s the first true leaf.

When the first true leaves emerge that is usually when you can start fertilizing, transplanting, thinning or doing whatever else you are going to do.

So that’s what true leaves mean figuratively and literally. Now can we come up with a better name for them – maybe third-leaf?! What would a better name be?

  • http://glueandglitter.com Becky Striepe

    Grown up leaves!

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    hahaha. I like it!

  • CJ

    characteristic leaves? as these are the first with the characteristics of the actual plant that is growing?
    do the sprout leaves have a name other than sprout leaves?

  • Rehrlund

    Bringing in the mother of a toddler perspective here…. Big Boy Leaves? lol

  • Greyinthedark

    I think how CJ called them characteristic leaves, or you could say like growth leaves or something that hints more to them being the first leaves as the plant is growing

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Hahaha. I likes it.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    The first two are called 

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    It def makes an easier pic than an explanation.

  • JessicaCRB

    I agree “Big Kid” leaves is pretty apt.  I think the idea with calling them true leaves is that it TRULY is the leaves of the plant.  Maybe we should call them Ah-Ha leaves because sometimes you look at them and go “Ah-Ha!  That’s what I planted there!” because the true leaves actually look like what the plant is going to be. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=624692882 Katherine Kelley

    That’s a fancy word.  I call ’em seed leaves.  :)

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Take on me…

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I’m smart like that…or just Googled it.

  • Diazt1978

    Ugghhh! I can’t wait to have my own place so that I can start my lil herb garden and some veggies! Totally unrelated to the topic here, except that I have not tried growing edibles yet and it sounds so fun reading your comments! I will have room soon, a whole balcony to myself! Yay!

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Way to keep it on topic 😉 Can you get grow lights or something to grow indoors? How about just some sprouts or something?!!?

  • Veghed6

    ha ha. Leave it to the scientists to already have names for them. The false leaves are cotyledons! Dicots or dicotyledons (beans, radish) have 2 and monocots (corn, grasses, lilies) have 1! : ) It is confusing. 

  • http://twitter.com/spirithorseherb Spirit Horse Herbals

    You are so funny! I like how your mind works, Mike! To this day, no one I know can even properly pronounce cotyledon, aka. first set of leaves. :-) What the h!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1303225174 Melissa Parker

    Dicots :)

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Bless you.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I wouldn’t even attempt to pronounce it.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    No thanks. I’m full.

  • Anonymous


  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman


  • comodor64

    dear friends,

    its simpler than you think.

    at the beginning, what you see come out (the first two “antennas”)

    only help the newborn seedling to get organized.

    (we call them “ko-til-eh-donnz”)

    they are NOT leaves…not all green stuff is leaves you know..

    only the next couple/single leaves (and the next to come)

    will be formed as the plants “permanent” antennas i.e. leaves (till they grow old and fall)

    and will actually supply the plant with sugars (photosynthesis).

    cheers!!thus- TRUE LEAVES

  • SheenaJoy

    Thanks for the clarification, this is what I assumed a “true leaf” was…but this year is my first year to attempt to grow veggies so you can imagine how many things need clarification lol

  • http://www.vuthy.com vuthy

    Okay, it took me a bit but I think I understand what you’re saying. The first things that emerge out of the seed aren’t the plant’s leaves. They are the seed’s antennas for grabbing some energy from the sun. This energy helps the plant grow and its own leaves, the true leaves, emerge a few days later. What happens to the seed’s antennas? Do they fall off at some point? Transform into leaves?

  • Sarae Bettany

    They’re the ‘true leaves’ because they’re the first leaves with the typical leaf shape of the plant you’re growing, I’m not sure why that should be confusing.