Sampling can be the source of the greatest errors in the overall results of foliar analysis. This paper reviews the variability in heavy metal concentrations in tree crowns, which is a feature that should be known and understood when designing a suitable leaf sampling procedure. The leaf sampling procedures applied in 75 articles were examined. Most of the environmental studies used a closely related form of the UN/ECE-EC leaf sampling procedure, which was developed for the long-term monitoring of forest condition. Studies with objectives outside the UN/ECE-EC field of application should utilize a sampling procedure that is in accordance with the objectives of the study and based on the observed variation in pilot and similar studies. The inherent sources of heavy metal variability inside the stand, i.e. the crown class, stand management, site properties, crown dimensions, infections, seasons, etc. were discussed, but the underlying causes of this variability are rarely understood. The inherent variability in tree crowns is the reason for using leaf sampling as a tool in pollution studies. The objectives of a pollution study determine which sources of variability are utilized by the researcher.