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Thermal Benefits From White Variegation of Silybum marianum Leaves
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Leaves of the spiny winter annual Silybum marianum express white patches (variegation) that can cover significant surface areas, the outcome of air spaces formed between the epidermis and the green chlorenchyma. We asked: (1) what characterizes the white patches in S. marianum and what differs them from green patches? (2) Do white patches differ from green patches in photosynthetic efficiency under lower temperatures? We predicted that the air spaces in white patches have physiological benefits, elevating photosynthetic rates under low temperatures. To test our hypotheses we used both a variegated wild type and entirely green mutants. We grew the plants under moderate temperatures (20 degrees C/10 degrees C d/n) and compared them to plants grown under lower temperatures (15 degrees C/5 degrees C d/n). The developed plants were exposed to different temperatures for 1 h and their photosynthetic activity was measured. In addition, we compared in green vs. white patches, the reflectance spectra, patch structure, chlorophyll and dehydrin content, stomatal structure, plant growth, and leaf temperature. White patches were not significantly different from green patches in their biochemistry and photosynthesis. However, under lower temperatures, variegated wildtype leaves were significantly warmer than all-green mutants - possible explanations for that are discussed These findings support our hypothesis, that white variegation of S. marianum leaves has a physiological role, elevating leaf temperature during cold winter days.