• element accumulation;
  • leaf;
  • neutron-activation analysis;
  • phylogeny;
  • principal component analysis (PCA)


  • • 
    Leaf nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations are correlated in plants. Higher-level phylogenetic effects can influence leaf N and P. By contrast, little is known about the phylogenetic variation in the leaf accumulation of most other elements in plant tissues, including elements with quantitatively lesser roles in metabolism than N, and elements that are nonessential for plant growth.
  • • 
    Here the leaf composition of 42 elements is reported from a statistically unstructured data set comprising over 2000 leaf samples, representing 670 species and 138 families of terrestrial plants.
  • • 
    Over 25% of the total variation in leaf element composition could be assigned to the family level and above for 21 of these elements. The remaining variation corresponded to differences between species within families, to differences between sites which were likely to be caused by soil and climatic factors, and to variation caused by sampling techniques.
  • • 
    While the majority of variation in leaf mineral composition is undoubtedly associated with nonevolutionary factors, identifying higher-level phylogenetic variation in leaf elemental composition increases our understanding of terrestrial nutrient cycles and the transfer of toxic elements from soils to living organisms. Identifying mechanisms by which different plant families control their leaf elemental concentration remains a challenge.