Das Blatt (singular)
According to wiktionary there are twelve different meanings for the German word »Blatt«:
- A generally green, flat organ of plants.
- A trimmed piece of paper, in most cased in rectangular shape. Figuratively also a foil or film made of skin, dough (»Teigblatt«, z.B. in Blätterteig), metal or other materials.
- The end of an oar or paddle at boats, ships and similar vehicles.
- When playing cards: The cards that someone holds in his/her hands.
- Colloqial synonym for newspaper, often also part of the name of a newspaper (»Handelsblatt«)
- The flat part of many tools.
- The sound-generating part in many music instruments, (in a clarinet for example)
- A unit to measure the amount of sheets os similar shaped things (»500 Blatt Kopierpapier«)
- A two-dimensional peace or art (i.e. a painting, drawing, etc.)
- In graph theory (a mathematical subarea): An ending node in a kind of graphs that is called tree.
- A peace of meat from the shoulder of an eatable animal.
- A flat tool.
The word is an old germanic word, known from the 8th century (»*blada«) and is etymological related to the nouns »Blume« (flower), »Blüte« (blossom) and the verb »blühen« (to bloom). But also »Ball« (ball), »blähen« (to swell) and »blasen« (to blow) derive from the same protoindogermanic root »*bhle-« which means »to blow up« or »to make bigger«.
Die Blätter (plural)
From 11 of the 12 different meanings of »Blatt« you can build the plural, which in all cases is »Blätter«. And in all of this 11 cases the plural means what it always means: Any number of those things but one (i.e zero, two or more).
Only the unit (#8 in the list above) is a singularetantum, i.e a word that has no plural.
Das Laub (only singular, no plural)
The english word leaf also has a lot of meanings (wiktionary counts eleven), and most of them correspond with meanings for the German »Blatt«. But the etymology of this English word is interesting. You can find, that the modern »leaf« comes from the Old English »leaf« which derives from the Protogermanic »*laubaz« which has the Protoindogermanic root »*leub(h)-«. This word is a verb and means »to peel off, to strip off, to break off«.
The things that was peeled/stripped/broken of was named after this verb, and when English and German separated from each other, both languages kept using this word in a similar manner.
In Old High German you can find the word »loub« that was used to name things that can be stripped or peeled off. But in the German branch people kept using this word as a material-word like sand, which means, that they used the singular form to name a huge amount of many tiny particles.
But in English they used the plural (»leafes«) for the same purpose, and so in this language you could use the singular for one of those particles.
In english you also have the noun »foliage«, which came from latin over french into the english vocabulary and has a different etymology.
Btw: »Laub» has two meanings:
- All of the leafs of a plant (living leafs as well as dead leafs, hanging on the plant as well as dropped down)
- When playing cards: Laub is one of the names for one of the card colors for German playing cards.
So, normally you have lots of Blätter im Laub, but when playing cards with German cards, you can have Laub in your Blatt.
So, the english »leaf« and the German »Laub« are siblings. The original meaning of both of them was »something that was peeled or stripped off«.
The German »Blatt« has a different original meaning, which is »part of a blossom«.