An image dataset of cleared, x-rayed, and fossil leaves vetted to plant family for human and machine learning

Peter Wilf, Scott L. Wing, Herbert W. Meyer, Jacob A. Rose, Rohit Saha, Thomas Serre, N. Rubén Cúneo, Michael P. Donovan, Diane M. Erwin, María A. Gandolfo, Erika González-Akre, Fabiany Herrera, Shusheng Hu, Ari Iglesias, Kirk R. Johnson, Talia S. Karim, Xiaoyu Zou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Leaves are the most abundant and visible plant organ, both in the modern world and the fossil record. Identifying foliage to the correct plant family based on leaf architecture is a fundamental botanical skill that is also critical for isolated fossil leaves, which often, especially in the Cenozoic, represent extinct genera and species from extant families. Resources focused on leaf identification are remarkably scarce; however, the situation has improved due to the recent proliferation of digitized herbarium material, live-plant identification applications, and online collections of cleared and fossil leaf images. Nevertheless, the need remains for a specialized image dataset for comparative leaf architecture. We address this gap by assembling an open-access database of 30,252 images of vouchered leaf specimens vetted to family level, primarily of angiosperms, including 26,176 images of cleared and x-rayed leaves representing 354 families and 4,076 of fossil leaves from 48 families. The images maintain original resolution, have user-friendly filenames, and are vetted using APG and modern paleobotanical standards. The cleared and x-rayed leaves include the Jack A. Wolfe and Leo J. Hickey contributions to the National Cleared Leaf Collection and a collection of high-resolution scanned x-ray negatives, housed in the Division of Paleobotany, Department of Paleobiology, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.; and the Daniel I. Axelrod Cleared Leaf Collection, housed at the University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley. The fossil images include a sampling of Late Cretaceous to Eocene paleobotanical sites from the Western Hemisphere held at numerous institutions, especially from Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (late Eocene, Colorado), as well as several other localities from the Late Cretaceous to Eocene of the Western USA and the early Paleogene of Colombia and southern Argentina. The dataset facilitates new research and education opportunities in paleobotany, comparative leaf architecture, systematics, and machine learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-128
Number of pages36
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Plant Science


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