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Ontogenetic variation in chemical and physical characteristics of adaxial apple leaf surfaces

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Bringe, K.; Schumacher, C. F.; Schmitz-Eiberger, M.; Steiner, U.; Oerke, E. C.

The reaction of plants to environmental factors often varies with developmental stage. It was hypothesized, that also the cuticle, the outer surface layer of plants is modified during ontogenesis. Apple plantlets, cv. Golden Delicious, were grown under controlled conditions avoiding biotic and abiotic stress factors. The cuticular wax surface of adaxial apple leaves was analyzed for its chemical composition as well as for its micromorphology and hydrophobicity just after unfolding of leaves ending in the seventh leaf insertion. The outer surface of apple leaves was formed by a thin amorphous layer of epicuticular waxes. Epidermal cells of young leaves exhibited a distinctive curvature of the periclinal cell walls resulting in an undulated surface of the cuticle including pronounced lamellae, with the highest density at the centre of cells. As epidermal cells expanded during ontogenesis, the upper surface showed only minor surface sculpturing and a decrease in lamellae. With increasing leaf age the hydrophobicity of adaxial leaf side decreased significantly indicated by a decrease in contact angle. Extracted from plants, the amount of apolar cuticular wax per area unit ranged from only 0.9 microgcm(-2) for the oldest studied leaf to 1.5 microgcm(-2) for the youngest studied leaf. Differences in the total amount of cuticular waxes per leaf were not significant for older leaves. For young leaves, triterpenes (ursolic acid and oleanolic acid), esters and alcohols were the main wax components. During ontogenesis, the proportion of triterpenes in total mass of apolar waxes decreased from 32% (leaf 1) to 13% (leaf 7); absolute amounts decreased by more than 50%. The proportion of wax alcohols and esters, and alkanes to a lesser degree, increased with leaf age, whereas the proportion of acids decreased. The epicuticular wax layer also contained alpha-tocopherol described for the first time to be present also in the epicuticular wax. The modifications in the chemical composition of cuticular waxes are discussed in relation to the varying physical characteristics of the cuticle during ontogenesis of apple leaves.

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