The leaf economics spectrum (LES) describes multivariate correlations that constrain leaf traits of plant species primarily to a single axis of variation if data are normalized by leaf mass. We show that these traits are approximately distributed proportional to leaf area instead of mass, as expected for a light- and carbon dioxide - collecting organ. Much of the structure in the mass-normalized LES results from normalizing area-proportional traits by mass. Mass normalization induces strong correlations among area-proportional traits because of large variation among species in leaf mass per area (LMA). The high LMA variance likely reflects its functional relationship with leaf life span. A LES that is independent of mass- or area-normalization and LMA reveals physiological relationships that are inconsistent with those in global vegetation models designed to address climate change.