Purple Leaf Identification

Written by henri bauholz
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Purple Leaf Identification
Purple Leaves (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of THOR)

A plant with purple leaves is not very common and may perplex the observer at first. If you do not immediately recognise the plant, then you will have to check the plant with a dichotomous key to find out what species it is. It will take more than just looking at the purple leaves to make the correct identification.

Shades of Purple

Since purple is the mixture of red and blue, a "purple leaf plant" may lean toward one side of the colour wheel, such as red. The Japanese maple and poinsettia both produce dark red leaves, which could possibly be classified as purple.

Use a Dichotomous Key

Do not identify the plant solely by the colour of its leaf. Use a dichotomous key for flowering plants and begin with the separation of monocots from dicots. Some grasses may have purple leaves, but they will still be parallel-veined. Go through all the steps until you get to the determination of species. Leaf colour will probably be the last step in the key.

Wild, Cultivated, or Invasive

Identifying the plant as to whether it is wild (grows outdoors in natural, undisturbed settings), cultivated (grows in the garden), or invasive (grows everywhere in profuse quantities) will be of great help in determining the individual species of the plant.


A few purple leaf plants are toxic to both livestock and people. They include the purple-leaf nettle (Urtica dioica), which is a skin irritant , and the beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens), which has poisonous seeds and is toxic to cattle.

Edible Varieties

The purple leaf basil (Ocimum minimum var. purple ruffles) is a popular delicacy, especially in Europe. It is very similar to other basil plants, except for the colour of its leaf. Besides the basil, there are many varieties of the mint family that sometimes have purplish leaves and can be used in a variety of ways, as a food source or beverage. Also, there is the purple leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera), a plant that bears a fruit about the size of a cherry.

Common Purple Leaf Plants

Some of the more popular plants that have purple leaves include the purple leaf pepper (Capsicum annuum), Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), and the ornamental rhubarb (Rheum palmatum "Atrosanguineum").

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