Photosynthetic and structural acclimation to light direction in vertical leaves of Silphium terebinthinaceum

Mary E. Poulson, Evan H Delucia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The azimuth of vertical leaves of Silphium terebinthinaceum profoundly influenced total daily irradiance as well as the proportion of direct versus diffuse light incident on the adaxial and abaxial leaf surface. These differences caused structural and physiological adjustments in leaves that affected photosynthetic performance. Leaves with the adaxial surface facing East received equal daily integrated irradiance on each surface, and these leaves had similar photosynthetic rates when irradiated on either the adaxial or abaxial surface. The adaxial surface of East-facing leaves was also the only surface to receive more direct than diffuse irradiance and this was the only leaf side which had a clearly defined columnar palisade layer. A potential cost of constructing East-facing leaves with symmetrical photosynthetic capcity was a 25% higher specific leaf mass and increased leaf thickness in comparison to asymmetrical South-facing leaves. The adaxial surface of South-facing leaves received approximately three times more daily integrated irradiance than the abaxial surface. When measured at saturating CO2 and irradiance, these leaves had 42% higher photosynthetic rates when irradiated on the adaxial surface than when irradiated on the abaxial surface. However, there was no difference in photosynthesis for these leaves when irradiated on either surface when measurements were made at ambient CO2. Stomatal distribution (mean adaxial/abaxial stomatal density = 0.61) was unaffected by leaf orientation. Thus, the potential for high photosynthetic rates of adaxial palisade cells in South-facing leaves at ambient CO2 concentrations may have been constrained by stomatal limitations to gas exchange. The distribution of soluble protein and chlorophyll within leaves suggests that palisade and spongy mesophyll cells acclimated to their local light environment. The protein/chlorophyll ratio was high in the palisade layers and decreased in the spongy mesophyll cells, presumably corresponding to the attentuation of light as it penetrates leaves. Unlike some species, the chlorophyll a/b ratio and the degree of thylakoid stacking was uniform throughout the thickness of the leaf. It appears that sun-shade acclimation among cell layers of Silphium terebinthinaceum leaves is accomplished without adjustment to the chlorophyll a/b ratio or to thylakoid membrane structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-400
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1993


  • Functional symmetry
  • Leaf anatomy
  • Leaf orientation
  • Light environment
  • Photosynthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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