Plant Science

Specializations for alpine living

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Science  06 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6384, pp. 45
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6384.45-a

Transparent leaf margins channel light into saxifrage leaves.

PHOTO: RM FLORAL/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Alpine plants called saxifrages have distinctive features that allow them to survive subzero temperatures and desiccating conditions. These plants' leaves are small, spiny, and succulent, and they ooze material from hydathode glands around their perimeter that forms a shiny crust on the leaf surface. Wightman et al. show that Saxifraga scardica from the Balkans also has a distinctive transparent leaf margin that apparently deflects incident light into inner, photosynthetic layers of the leaf. Such anatomy may be an adaptation to the diminished light environments in craggy alpine topography. Raman spectroscopy revealed that different saxifrage species secrete different combinations of materials. S. scardica secretions are composed of calcite and vaterite. The latter is a metastable calcium carbonate polymorph that is rare in nature and has features that might make it useful as a drug-delivery vehicle.

Flora 10.1016/j.flora.2018.02.006 (2018).

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