If you’ve noticed some leaves accumulating at the base of your plant, it’s usually a bad sign that it’s struggling. You’ll probably feel worried and want to remedy the problem as quickly as possible. But, you might also wonder if your plant can survive without any leaves on it.
If there aren’t any leaves on a plant, it won’t be able to survive. This is because leaves have many functions that keep plants healthy, such as absorbing light energy through their chlorophyll to nourish plants.
In this article, I’ll explore why plants need leaves to survive, what essential functions leaves have for plants, what types of plants don’t need leaves and what they are equipped with instead to keep them healthy.
Why Plants Need Leaves
Plants require leaves in order to survive and thrive. Leaves produce food for the plant via a process called photosynthesis. This is when plants transform water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight into energy (sugar) and oxygen, as National Geographic reports. Chlorophyll is a substance that makes leaves green and enables them to absorb light energy to complete this process.
Plants rely on leaves for many important functions and processes. These include the following:
- Leaves have stomata, pore-like structures, that draw in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen from the plant. They enable gas and water to move around the plant so that its leaves don’t dry out.
- Leaves release excess water from the plant. This prevents the plant from being saturated with water.
- Leaves protect the plants against the elements. For example, when it’s windy, leaves help to prevent the wind from reaching other parts of the plant and its soil.
- Leaves incorporate CO2 as the substrate of photosynthesis and reduce the loss of water.
- Leaves help the plant to maintain a stable internal environment so various physiological processes can occur.
- Leaves give the plant structural integrity so that they can undergo photosynthesis in different environments and conditions, such as rainfall and wind.
Can Plants Ever Survive Without Leaves?
Without leaves, most plants can’t produce food to sustain themselves and encourage growth. This is why if your plants are starting to lose their leaves, it’s a red flag that they are struggling, and you need to take care of them to bring them back to health.
However, it’s important to note that plants do lose their lower leaves when they’re in their dormant period. They grow new leaves at the top to replenish themselves. If you’ve noticed that during the winter, your indoor plants start to lose some leaves, don’t immediately panic. The loss of leaves during cold weather is a common and natural occurrence for some types of plants.
While some plants lose leaves because it’s a normal part of their life cycle, others lose leaves in winter so that they have fewer leaves to maintain during periods of low light. Other types of plants don’t lose any leaves, so it’s important to know what is normal for your specific plant so that you can be alerted to anything that requires alterations to its care.
Why Your Plant Is Losing Leaves
If your plant isn’t entering its dormant period but losing its leaves, here are the most common reasons why.
The Plant Is Experiencing Shock
If there have been sudden and/or extreme changes to your plant’s environment, this can cause it to lose its leaves. For example, if you’ve moved your plant from a shaded area to an area of bright light in the home, this can make your plant struggle to survive.
This is why it’s essential to let your plants get used to new conditions gradually, whether the change refers to location, wind, temperature, or lighting.
The Plant Isn’t Being Watered Properly
If you’ve been watering your plant too much lately, its leaves will usually turn yellow. If underwatering is at play, leaves usually turn brown before they fall off the plant. Usually, plants will show other signs of being over- or under-watered before the leaves droop and fall, but they depend on the type of plant you have.
Different types of plants will require different amounts and frequencies of watering. It’s important to check this information regarding your specific plant so that you give it enough water it needs to grow and be healthy.
Plant soil should be dry before you water it since over-watering causes the roots to rot. But how do you know how dry your plants should be before watering them? Check out my guide to find out the answer: How Dry Should Your Plants Be Before Watering Them?
The Plant Isn’t Getting Enough Humidity
If you have houseplants that are tropical plants, they require high levels of humidity. If you don’t ensure they get enough humidity, such as by misting them or giving them pebble trays, this can cause the plants to drop leaves.
Plants do this to try to preserve moisture and reduce water loss. The fewer leaves the plant has, the fewer leaves that will transpire moisture.
Besides a plant dropping its leaves, other signs that your plant isn’t getting enough humidity include the following:
- Its leaves become brown and dry on the tips or along the leaf edges.
- Its leaves or flowers become shriveled or curled up.
Make sure you check how much humidity your plant needs so it gets enough.
The Plant Is Targeted by Pests or Fungus
Some pests attack the leaves of plants, causing them to fall off. Examples include spider mites and mealybugs. Such pests feed on the plant leaves until they are so damaged that they fall off the plant.
However, if your plant is being attacked by pests, you’ll see other signs that they’re present. For example, if your plant’s leaves are changing color, this is a sign of fungus attacking the plant. Similarly, if the leaves are wilting, this is a sign that aphids could be feasting on the plants.
The Plant Isn’t Getting Enough Sunlight
Your plant can start to lose its leaves if it’s not getting enough sunlight. This is especially the case during winter when the light is indirect. You should move the plant to an area of the home that gets more sunlight or provide your plant with extra light in the form of artificial lighting to help it grow.
Other signs your plants require more sunlight include the following:
- The plant’s stem is stretching. It does this to try to reach areas of light.
- Your plants aren’t flowering.
- Your plant’s variegation has changed or completely disappeared.
The Plant Lacks Nutrients
If your plant is showing signs of nutritional deficiencies, you’ll know by how its leaves turn yellow. This is a common sign that it needs to be topped up with more fertilizer to give it the nutrients it needs.
Your plant will display different symptoms depending on the nutrients it’s lacking. If your plant isn’t getting enough magnesium, for example, it will develop the following signs:
- Deep-green leaf veins.
- Yellowish areas on the leaves.
- Small lower leaves.
- Loss of lower leaves.
How Long Can a Plant Survive Without Leaves?
If a plant has lost all of its leaves, it usually has only a few days to survive before it dies. It will try to draw water and nutrients from other parts of the plant, such as the stem, in order to live. But, this will be temporary, causing the plant to face imminent death.
When you see that your plant has lost all of its leaves, you might immediately assume that it’s dead, but this might not be the case. Check the plant’s stems by touching them. If they feel firm yet pliable and have green on the inside, these are strong indications that the plant is still alive.
Types of Plants That Don’t Have Leaves
Although plants that lose their leaves are usually displaying signs that they lack certain care, there are some plants that don’t have any leaves.
Here are some examples of common ones and how they survive without leaves:
- Bryophytes. These are small, flowerless plants, of which moss is an example. Moss grows in clumps and doesn’t have any roots, stems, or leaves. Instead, it’s equipped with rhizoids that draw water and nutrients from the environment.
- Cacti. These plants don’t have leaves, but they make up for that with external appendages to protect them against predators. They also have spines instead of leaves to prevent them from losing moisture or minerals, especially in harsh environments such as the desert.
- Hydnora Africana. This is a parasitic plant that doesn’t have any stem or leaves. It steals food from other plants with the use of specialized roots that become intertwined with the roots of healthy plants so that it can draw nutrients from them.
If your plant is losing its leaves, this is usually a sign that it’s struggling to grow and thrive. However, there are some plants that can survive without any leaves, such as in the case of nonvascular plants. Leaves have many functions to help plants survive, such as:
- Absorbing light energy to enable photosynthesis.
- Drawing in carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen.
- Releasing excess water from the plant.
- Protecting the plant against the elements.