What Are True Leaves on Microgreens

Two frequently asked questions by people starting to grow microgreens are: "What are cotyledons?", and "What are true leaves on microgreens?"

Microgreen seed vendors and writers often forget to explain microgreen terminology before using uncommon words or phrases. We say things like "Harvest during the cotyledon stage" or "Wait until the first true leaves form before harvesting the microgreens."

This only confuses people who just started growing microgreens. Making the simple task of growing microgreens seem more difficult or too technical than it really is, and lowering the chances that they'll try growing their own microgreens.

Home Microgreens aims to make growing microgreens as easy and fun as possible. Hopefully this article will help those that are new to microgreens by explaining the terminology. 

Growing microgreens is easy and we want you to have trays of microgreens ready to harvest every day of the year. 

microgreen true leaves

What Are True Leaves?

The photo above is Purple Wave Mustard microgreens showing both cotyledons and the first true leaves.

If you haven't read the article on cotyledons or seed leaves, you can read that article by clicking this link.

Which leaves in the photo are the true leaves?

First true leaves are smaller versions of what the larger mature leaves will be, so they are the leaves that have vascular structures and frilly edges. Now not every first true leaf has frilly edges like the mustard shown above. But they will look more like mature plant leaves.

Cotyledons are usually smooth and plain looking, with very basic shapes like ovals or in the case of the mustard above, heart-shaped.

Below, we've labeled some of the cotyledons and true leaves on the mustard microgreen photo (you can click on either picture to expand the size).

What are true leaves on this mustard microgreen

You can see that the cotyledons, or seed leaves, are heart-shaped with smooth edges.

While the first true leaves are more vascular, lobed, and have frills along the edge. 

First true leaves, without a doubt, start providing energy for the plant by photosynthesis. There's some debate if cotyledons are able to photosynthesize Many sources on the internet say they don't. 

However, a study by Zhang et al. (2010) shows that cotyledons of some plants do contribute energy to the plant by photosynthesis.

We believe that the cotyledons of many plants grown as microgreens do produce chlorophyll and help contribute more nutrition to microgreens. The main reason we think that is how much the microgreens grow before growing their first true leaves.

But this isn't an article about cotyledons, but we want you to understand how the plants grow so you can produce the most nutritious and flavorful microgreens as possible.

microgreen true leaves

We'll get back to the topic on hand.

Harvest Before or After the First True Leaves Form?

Well, that depends on the microgreen. 

You harvest many microgreens before the first true leaf forms, for example, broccoli, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes and many more. 

Others, like the mustard microgreens shown above, should be harvested as the first true leaves form. Not that you can't eat the cotyledons, because you do harvest them along with the true leaves.

what are microgreen true leaves

Purple Wave Mustard microgreen. The plant is resting on two cotyledons, and the first true leaves are growing between them.

Flavor is the Real Reason

The reason why we wait to harvest some microgreens is that the first true leaves add a much more flavor to the microgreens.

The flavor will be more intense after the true leaves form. Generally, we wait for the first true leaves to form on herb microgreens, like basil, cilantro, parsley, before harvest. But we wait on some of the vegetable microgreens, like the mustards and celery too.

Confused When to Harvest What?

We know it's confusing, and we'll publish an article on which microgreens should be harvest prior too or after the formation of the first true leaves very soon. 

We'll post a link here when that article is published. Or, you can sign-up below to receive a weekly e-mail update with links to the newest articles as well as growing tips.

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Hidden Content

More Photos of Microgreen First True Leaves

Below are three more microgreen varieties. Again, you can click the image, and the photo will expand. 

Basil microgreen first true leaves

The fan shaped leaves to the top and bottom of the photo are the cotyledons. The first true leaves are coming out of the middle of the plant pointing east & west.

celery first true leaves

In this image of celery microgreens, all of the leaves shown are first true leaves. The cotyledons have either fallen off or can't be seen below.

Cilantro microgreen first true leaves

The cilantro cotyledons are narrow and oval, the first true leaves are tri-lobed.

Have a Question?

If you have any questions about the information in this post or microgreens in general, please leave a comment below or reach out to me using the Ask a Question page

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