The design and function of leaf venation are important to plant performance, with key implications for the distribution and productivity of ecosystems, and applications in paleobiology, agriculture and technology. We synthesize classical concepts and the recent literature on a wide range of aspects of leaf venation. We describe 10 major structural features that contribute to multiple key functions, and scale up to leaf and plant performance. We describe the development and plasticity of leaf venation and its adaptation across environments globally, and a new global data compilation indicating trends relating vein length per unit area to climate, growth form and habitat worldwide. We synthesize the evolution of vein traits in the major plant lineages throughout paleohistory, highlighting the multiple origins of individual traits. We summarize the strikingly diverse current applications of leaf vein research in multiple fields of science and industry. A unified core understanding will enable an increasing range of plant biologists to incorporate leaf venation into their research.
© 2013 The Authors New Phytologist © 2013 New Phytologist Trust.