A key element of most recently proposed plant strategy schemes is an axis of resource capture, usage and availability. In the search for a simple, robust plant trait (or traits) that will allow plants to be located on this axis, specific leaf area is one of the leading contenders. Using a large new unpublished database, we examine the variability of specific leaf area and other leaf traits, the relationships between them, and their ability to predict position on the resource use axis. Specific leaf area is found to suffer from a number of drawbacks; it is both very variable between replicates and much influenced by leaf thickness. Leaf dry-matter content (sometimes referred to as tissue density) is much less variable, largely independent of leaf thickness and a better predictor of location on an axis of resource capture, usage and availability. However, it is not clear how useful dry matter content will be outside northwest Europe, and in particular in dry climates with many succulents.