Stomatal plugs of <i>Drimys winteri</i> (Winteraceae) protect leaves from mist but not drought

TitleStomatal plugs of Drimys winteri (Winteraceae) protect leaves from mist but not drought
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsFeild TS, Zweiniecki MA, Donoghue MJ, Holbrook NM
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Date Published1998 Nov 24

Two outstanding features of the flowering plant family Winteraceae are the occlusion of their stomatal pores by cutin plugs and the absence of water-conducting xylem vessels. An adaptive relationship between these two unusual features has been suggested whereby stomatal plugs restrict gas exchange to compensate for the presumed poor conductivity of their vesselless wood. This hypothesized connection fueled evolutionary arguments that the vesselless condition is ancestral in angiosperms. Here we show that in Drimys winteri, a tree common to wet forests, these stomatal occlusions pose only a small fixed resistance to water loss. In addition, they modify the humidity response of guard cells such that under high evaporative demand, leaves with plugs lose water at a faster rate than leaves from which the plugs have been experimentally removed. Instead of being adaptations for drought, we present evidence that these cuticular structures function to maintain photosynthetic activity under conditions of excess water on the leaf surface. Stomatal plugs decrease leaf wettability by preventing the formation of a continuous water film that would impede diffusion of CO2 into the leaf. Misting of leaves had no effect on photosynthetic rate of leaves with plugs, but resulted in a marked decrease ( approximately 40%) in leaves from which the plugs had been removed. These findings do not support a functional association between stomatal plugs and hydraulic competence and provide a new perspective on debates surrounding the evolution of vessels in angiosperms.

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