Characterizing sclerophylly: the mechanical properties of a diverse range of leaf types


Author for correspondence: Jennifer Read Tel: +61 3 9905 5622 Fax: +61 3 9905 5613 Email:


  • • Although sclerophylly is defined by textural properties, its adaptive significance has been debated without a strong base of mechanical data. We measured a wide range of mechanical properties across a diverse range of species and leaf forms, including highly scleromorphic leaves, and compared these with sclerophylly indices to determine the mechanical properties of sclerophylls.
  • • Fracture and flexure tests were used to determine leaf strength, toughness (work to fracture) and flexural stiffness (‘structural’ properties), and specific strength, specific toughness and Young's modulus of elasticity (‘material’ properties, i.e. normalized per unit leaf thickness).
  • • Leaves varied considerably in all properties tested, and in the way they combined various ‘structural’ and ‘material’ properties. However, on average, highly scleromorphic leaves were stronger, tougher and stiffer than soft leaves. ‘Structural’ properties correlated more strongly with sclerophylly than ‘material’ properties, and the ratio of stiffness to strength and toughness increased in sclerophyllous species.
  • • Of the structural properties, strength, toughness and flexural stiffness each made substantial independent contributions to the variation in sclerophylly indices, but the best individual explanators were flexural stiffness and strength, with the best predictive model being a combination of these two properties. This model should now be tested on leaves from contrasting environments.