Leaves are the first thing we see when they look at our indoor plants. The larger leaves are more telling when the plants need water, sunshine, or particular chemicals. Do you know that there are plants with leaves longer than a 20-meter tall store building! Yes, you got this right. However, what are the advantages of such gigantic leaves, if any?
For those who grow plants indoors, the advantages of large leaves are:
- They increase oxygen and humidity levels
- They provide dramatic, natural decor
- They are easier to maintain keep clean
- They provide milder oils and flavors
Herbs with larger leaves are more visible and give more servings per leaf. However, there are pros as well as cons. For instance, smaller leaves can have more flavor and essential oils. Read on for more useful information.
FACTOID: The world’s biggest leaves include the Welwitschia (13 feet long), the Rafia regalis (10 feet wide x 80 feet long), and Victoria amazonica (up to 10 feet in diameter). For indoor gardeners, leaves of Empress Wu hosta are 2 feet long while the Chilean rhubarb has leaves 8 feet wide.
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The biggest leaves are not on trees or hard stems. Instead, you’ll see the biggest leaves on smaller tropical plants with soft, fleshy stems. Big leaves absorb the most sunshine, store more water, and provide the plant with more nutrients.
For vegetable farmers and crop growers, small leaves would be about the size of fingernails or leaves, while large leaves would be about the size of your open hand or bigger.
In groceries, bigger leaves mean more sales because the plants look better on display shelves. And it’s true: buyers like bigger leaves to make more servings. On the other hand, there are disadvantages too.
For instance, worms, insects, wind, and rain can easily destroy the looks of a perfectly good, large leaf. At the same time, for crop and herb growers, large leaves can shade lower leaves and prevent them from absorbing sunlight, so they’re often smaller.
PRO TIP: The smaller leaves of kitchen herbs contain more essential oils. Research shows that larger leaves have at least 15% less flavor and aroma.
This summary of the pros of big leaves uses words such as stoma, internode, and cuticle. To avoid confusion, here’s a short review:
Stoma (also stomata): These are invisible pores (holes) on the surface of leaves that allow plants to release excess moisture and oxygen into the air. There are more stomata on the underside of leaves than on the top side. Stomata are bigger at night.
Internode: The internode (the part of the stem between nodes) brings water and nutrients from one node to another. The nodes are the places on the stem where leaves, buds, or fruits grow.
Cuticle: This is the plant’s outer skin. It can be shiny, waxy, hairy, or transparent. It prevents the plant from losing water, allows us to see the leaf’s color, and is the plant’s first layer of protection against the weather, insects, fungi, worms, larva, and bacteria. .
Now that you’re reviewed these 3 terms, let’s move on and answer the question:
Leaves are the most visible part of any plant. The foliage can instantly tell us about a plant’s beauty, health, and urgent needs. It’s also the most hard-working part of a plant in terms of keeping us alive and attractive.
Bigger leaves have more stomata than smaller leaves. In other words, if you grow plants with large leaves indoors, you’ll benefit from more oxygen that keeps you alive and more air moisture that keeps your skin hydrated.
Most Asians have beautiful skin because the air is generally humid in Asia. The high water content in the atmosphere keeps pores on their skin moist and smooth all year round. That’s why most Asians look younger than Westerners of the same age.
When you grow plants with large leaves indoors, you’ll need to provide them with high levels of humidity. Humid air benefits your plants as well as your complexion by keeping your skin hydrated indoors. Win-win situation, right?
We know that leaves absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide (that we exhale). From that, they produce food and energy. Through their stomata, they expel moisture and oxygen (that we inhale).
When you grow plants with large leaves indoors, you’re adding interior beauty into your home or building. At the same time, you’re also allowing the plants to enrich your indoor atmosphere with oxygen.
Aside from the snake plant, tulsi, and gerbera daisies, the following plants are examples of large-leaf varieties that produce the most oxygen:
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum): Indoors, the pothos plant can reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) from 6.5% to more than 17%. Experiments show oxygen levels increased in the air around the plant when the pothos plant absorbed indoor carbon dioxide, which decreased from 455 ppm to 377 ppm.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii): A study by a university team in Australia found that the peace lily plant reduces carbon dioxide and increases oxygen by about 25% indoors. This plant can grow up to 16 inches tall indoors and at least 6 feet outdoors.
Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia): A study by university researchers in Turkey found that this plant cleans the air (from acetone, formaldehyde, etc.), increases oxygen, and reduces CO2 levels from 1,868 to 1,506 ppm in 24 hours. This plant can grow up to 5 feet indoors and up to 10 feet with 20-inch long leaves outdoors.
PRO TIP: Air conditioners cool the air by sucking out the moisture. If you grow large-leafed plants indoors, always spray the leaves with water to keep them from dehydrating.
FACTOID: For clean indoor air, the weeping fig best removes octane; the nerve plant best removes benzene, TCE, and toluene; while the asparagus fern, the waffle plant, English ivy, purple heart, and the wax plant (also known as porcelain flower) are the best to remove VOCs and air pollutants in general.
For interior decorators, nothing beats real plants, particularly leaves with dramatic shapes and colors. To fill out large spaces, the choice is between using a lot of small plants with small leaves versus using a few plants with oversized leaves.
Of course, maintenance-wise, plants with large, waxy leaves often win because they’re easier to clean with fewer pots to water.
Aside from favorites such as elephant ears, rubber trees, and banana palms, here are some favorite indoor plants with showy leaves:
Calathea (Orbifolia): The large, oval leaves have beautiful silver and green stripes that look striking indoors, whether in natural or artificial lighting. Leaves can grow up to 30 cm wide while the plant itself can grow taller than 25 inches.
Croton: Crotons are popular because the green leaves can also show various colors including yellow, orange, and purple. This plant can grow up to 9 feet indoors.
Caladium: The broad leaves of the caladium plant comes in green as well as in pink, white, and red. This plant thrives best in indirect or filtered sunlight.
Mulleins: The Arctic Summer variety of this plant produces leaves about 14 inches long. It can grow up to 8 feet and spread magnificently like an upside-down chandelier with yellow rosettes.
Fiddle Leaf Fig: With the right care and growing conditions, the huge green, fiddle-shaped leaves can grow a few feet each year, up to 7 feet or even more.
Rodgersia: The palm-like leaves are about 12 inches long. The plant can grow up to 6 feet tall. Pink or white flowers bloom around midsummer
PRO TIP: Want to increase the greenery in your indoor space but too tired to do more plant maintenance? Easy: place mirrors behind your plants. You double the greenery without the need for more watering and wiping of leaves
FACTOID: Plants with large leaves indicate soil high in nutrients. Conversely, only small-leafed plants thrive in low-nutrient soil conditions.
For livening up large and sterile indoor spaces such as in huge hotel lobbies, plants with large leaves create visual drama and accentuate the spaciousness with fresh and natural touches of color, shape, and texture. Large, waxy leaves are the easiest to clean.
One enemy of the health and vitality of indoor plants is dust, which can clog up stomata and makes respiration (breathing) difficult. Plants with clogged pores produce less oxygen and often show signs of overwatering.
Most indoor decorators and gardeners like plants with large, glossy cuticles. The waxy surfaces can resist dust and water so they’re easy to keep clean. Also, the glossy sheen keeps each leaf looking fresh and new.
Here are some examples of indoor plants with large, shiny leaves that are super-easy to keep clean:
Giant Bird of Paradise: The glossy paddle-shaped leaves can grow up to more than 8 feet tall. With indirect sunlight (at least 5 hours a day) and high humidity, they can produce spectacular flowers.
Monstera Deliciosa: Also known as the Swiss Cheese Plant, it can grow up to 9 feet with glossy, holey leaves that stand out in large spaces in bright, indirect lighting. Mist frequently and keep the leaves clean; the dust can easily clog up the leaf pores.
Fiddle Leaf Fig: The waxy, dark-green, fiddle-shaped leaves need plenty of sunlight, regular cleaning, and avoid over-watering. The plant can grow up to 6 feet.
Finger Plant: Also known as Fals Castor Plant, it can grow up to 6 feet. Each shiny leaf has broad “fingers” and is great at purifying indoor air.
Keeping the leaves of indoor plants clean is different from keeping your home or building interiors clean. Here are some do’s and don’ts that we’ve gathered over the years.
Dusting is not an effective strategy, as it only moves dust from one surface to another.
Vacuuming is not recommended; the vacuum cleaner may accidentally damage cuticles and stomata.
Misting: Spraying leaves regularly with a bottle sprayer that produces very fine mist is recommended. The mist cleans the air of dust. At the same time, the moisture can wash away all dust and debris from leaf surfaces.
Wiping: To dry-wipe leaf surfaces, use a clean and soft material such as cloth, paper towel, or tissue. For better results, dampen the material with a light spray of water before use.
PRO TIP: Be sure to clean both the top and bottom parts of the leaves. This can help remove dust on top as well as pests at the bottom. For glossy results, try out a leaf shiner such as this one from Amazon.
The large leaves of tropical plants evolved due to the high levels of sunshine, loads of available water, and the highly humid air of the tropics. Leaves in colder regions are smaller to minimize water loss as well as wind damage.
For indoor-gardening foodies, leaves of potted herbs can provide essential flavors for comfort dishes, essential oils for herbal remedies, and living touches of nature for indoor ambiance.
Herb growers know that smaller leaves are more pungent and more flavorful compared to larger leaves. In fact, a little does a lot.
That’s why foodies who prefer milder flavors prefer to use herbs with larger leaves that generally contain less essential oils. Some examples are the giant Italian parsley, large-leaf Italian basil, hyssop, sage, lemon balm, and rosemary.
However, when a favorite herb does not provide larger leaves, what’s a good solution? Grow your own giant herbs, of course
Aside from using carbonated water, green tea, seaweed fertilizer, or fish emulsion, here are some tips on growing giant basil that you can try and adapt to your favorite potted herb:
Space out seeds: While you can propagate many herbs from cuttings or grafts, try and start with starter plants, or with seeds. You don’t want the plants competing for nutrients, so space them out for better growth.
Good drainage: When growing herbs in pots or containers, make sure that holes easily drain water from the soil..
FACTOID: If large leaves are so advantageous, why is it that many plants have small leaves? To put it simply, the answer is evolution and survival of the fittest species, as shaped by environmental factors.
Leaves manufacture energy from sunlight and, in the process, create oxygen. In short, without leaves, all humans, animals, and oxygen-inhaling organisms on the planet will die.
From vegetables to herbs, leaves make up most of the world’s food supply, trade, and commerce including essential oils that benefit our health and wellness. Big leaves are also important in providing these benefits.
Improves indoor air: With a little light, water, and sunshine, indoor plants provide you with better air, more oxygen, and better hydration for your skin.
Provides natural indoor decor: Bringing in nature with large plants indoors is a must, particularly for modern, minimalist interiors. For traditional indoor decor, the right plants can create a welcoming ambiance.
Ease of cleaning and maintenance: Large leaves with glossy, waxy surfaces are particularly easy to wipe and clean. Larger plants occupy more space, so you don’t need to maintain many plants indoors.
Enjoyment of milder flavors: If you prefer dishes or drinks with milder flavors, use kitchen herbs with larger leaves, as these contain fewer essential oils than smaller leaves. For this, you can also help your herb plants to produce larger leaves.
Congratulations! You’ve just completed a thorough review of the advantages of large leaves.
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“Environmental Correlates of Leaf Stomata Density” by B. W. Grant et al in Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology (TIEE)
“Indoor plants as agents deterioration of gas pollution” by M. M. Suhaimi, et al in ARPN Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences
“The Smaller the Leaf Is, the Faster the Leaf Water Loses in a Temperate Forest” by C. Wang et al in Plant Science
“Why Are Some Leaves Massive and Others Minuscule?” by J. Daley in Smithsonian Magazine
“Climate Adaptation: Leaf Size and Shape” by Iowa State University
“Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement” by B. Wolverton et al, NASA
“Use Of Living Pot-plants To Cleanse Indoor Air – Research Review” by J. Tarran, et al in Sustainable Built Environment
“The Effect of Some Indoor Ornamental Plants on CO2 Levels During the Day” by H. Sevik et al in the Polish Journal of Environmental Studies
“Screening indoor plants for volatile organic pollutant removal efficiency” by D. S. Yang, et al in Horticultural Science