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?

26 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Becky Striepe June 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm -

    Grown up leaves!

  2. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm -

    hahaha. I like it!

  3. CJ June 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm -

    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?

  4. Rehrlund June 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm -

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

  5. Greyinthedark June 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm -

    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

  6. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm -

    Hahaha. I likes it.

  7. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm -

    The first two are called 

  8. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm -

    It def makes an easier pic than an explanation.

  9. JessicaCRB June 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm -

    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. 

  10. Katherine Kelley June 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm -

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

  11. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 10:12 pm -

    Take on me…

  12. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 10:12 pm -

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

  13. Diazt1978 June 7, 2011 at 10:16 pm -

    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!

  14. Mike Lieberman June 7, 2011 at 10:18 pm -

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

  15. Veghed6 June 8, 2011 at 1:58 am -

    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. 

  16. Spirit Horse Herbals June 8, 2011 at 2:00 am -

    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!

  17. Melissa Parker June 8, 2011 at 2:08 am -

    Dicots 🙂

  18. Mike Lieberman June 8, 2011 at 3:20 am -

    Bless you.

  19. Mike Lieberman June 8, 2011 at 3:20 am -

    I wouldn’t even attempt to pronounce it.

  20. Mike Lieberman June 8, 2011 at 3:20 am -

    No thanks. I’m full.

  21. Anonymous July 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm -


  22. Mike Lieberman July 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm -


  23. comodor64 April 21, 2013 at 8:43 pm -

    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

  24. SheenaJoy April 7, 2014 at 2:02 pm -

    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

  25. vuthy July 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm -

    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?

  26. Sarae Bettany August 20, 2017 at 4:37 am -

    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.

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