Types of Leaf Arrangements

Leaf formations

The Spruce / David Karoki

Tree and shrub identification begins as you assess the different parts of the plant and recognize their specific type, color, shape, and size. When these clues are pieced together, you can properly identify the species of the tree, shrub, or plant.

One such clue is the leaf arrangement on the stem, which is formally known as phyllotaxy in botany. There are three basic types of leaf arrangements found in woody trees and shrubs: alternate, opposite, and whorled. For tender plants, you will encounter these types of leaf arrangements: basal, rosette, and distichous.

  • 01 of 06

    Alternate Leaf Arrangement

    Golden barberry bush branch with small circular yellow-green leaves and bud closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    In an alternate leaf arrangement, there is one leaf per plant node, and they alternate sides.

    Examples of trees and shrubs with an alternate leaf arrangement:

    • Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
    • Black walnut (Juglans nigra). The black walnut may appear to have an opposite leaf arrangement, but it has compound leaves. The opposite leaflets form the entire true leaf, which alternates on the stem.
    • Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata)
    • Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)
    • Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria)
    • Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

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  • 02 of 06

    Opposite Leaf Arrangement

    Olive tree branches

    The Spruce / David Karoki

    On these trees and shrubs with opposite arrangement, two leaves arise from the same node on opposite sides of the stem.

    Examples of trees and shrubs with an opposite leaf arrangement:

    A sub-opposite arrangement is a condition in which the leaves are not spaced far enough apart to be considered alternate nor are they perfectly opposite one another.

  • 03 of 06

    Whorled Leaf Arrangement

    Japanese clethra

    igaguri_1 / Getty Images

    When a tree or shrub has a whorled leaf arrangement, there are at least three leaves at each node. Some can have both opposite and whorled leaves throughout the plant.

    Examples of trees and shrubs with a whorled leaf arrangement:

  • 04 of 06

    Basal Leaf Arrangement

    Yarrow plant with small pink flattened flower clusters above feathery foliage closeup

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    All the leaves arise from the base (crown) of the plant.

    Many perennial plants are trimmed back to new basal foliage once the older foliage starts to look tired and worn. Examples of perennials with basal leaf arrangement are:

    • Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
    • Oxeye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)
    • Whorled stonecrop (Sedum ternatum)
    • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Rosette Leaf Arrangement

    Hens and chicks succulents with rosette clusters surrounded by rocks in sunlight

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    When basal leaves are arranged in a dense, radiating cluster, it is considered a rosette leaf arrangement.

    Rosettes often referred to as basal rosettes frequently occur in acaulescent plants that have no visible stem. Example leaf arrangements are:

  • 06 of 06

    Distichous Leaf Arrangement

    Gladiolus plant with large trumpet-like cream and pink colored flowers closeup

    The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

    Leaves are arranged in two vertical rows on opposite sides of the stem alternating every 180 degrees. Distichous leaf or botanical element (flowers, seeds) arrangements are a form of alternate leaf arrangement.

    Distichous leaf arrangements examples:

    • Maize (Zea mays)
    • Gladiolus (Gladiolus palustris)
    • Giant Reed (Arundo donax)
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Plant Structures: Leaves. Colorado State University Master Gardener Program.

  2. The Language of Leaves. University of Vermont Extension Service.

  3. Virtual Herbarium. Charles Sturt University, Australia.