Over the last 20 years, plant ecologists have devoted much attention to describing the major dimensions of variation in plant functional traits (e.g. the ‘leaf economics spectrum’). Doing so has produced insight into the physical and evolutionary constraints that shape plant strategies. Here, I discuss some of my own explorations into the major dimensions of leaf hyperspectral variation and their interpretation in terms of underlying functional traits. I hope to show the benefits of this approach and the promise of scaling it up to the canopy level using remotely sensed imagery.