The outer layers of a range of plant tissues, including flower petals, leaves and fruits, exhibit an intriguing variation of microscopic structures. Some of these structures include ordered periodic multilayers and diffraction gratings that give rise to interesting optical appearances. The colour arising from such structures is generally brighter than pigment-based colour. Here, we describe the main types of photonic structures found in plants and discuss the experimental approaches that can be used to analyse them. These experimental approaches allow identification of the physical mechanisms producing structural colours with a high degree of confidence.
structural colour in plants; spectroscopy; iridescence; plant cuticle; multilayer interference
Flowers interact simultaneously with a variety of insect visitors, including mutualistic pollinators and antagonists such as florivores, nectar robbers and pollinator predators. The plant epidermis produces a range of structures, such as conical or papillate cells, that can help mutualists to grip the flower, while a variety of other structures, such as slippery wax crystals on the flowers or on the stems leading to them, are able to deter non-beneficial insects or behaviors. Modification of the floral surface can also aid pollination in unusual ways in some highly specialized interactions. In the case of the trap-flowers in species of Arisaema, conical cells aid pollination by being present on the spathe surface, but here they are modified in such a way as to decrease the pollinating insect’s grip. We discuss a variety of these floral structural features that influence insect stability on the plant.
floral epidermis; pollination; insect grip; trap-flower; wax
The Hibiscus trionum flower is distinctly patterned, with white petals each with a patch of red pigment at the base, producing a ‘bulls-eye’ pattern on the whole flower. The red pigmented patches are also iridescent, due to the presence of a series of overlying cuticular striations that act as a diffraction grating. We have previously reported that scanning electron microscopy revealed a sharply defined difference between the surface structure overlying the pigmented patch and that over the rest of the petal, with the diffraction grating only present over the pigmented region. Here we show that differences in petal surface structure overlie differences in pigment color in three other species, in a range of different patterns. Floral patterns have previously been shown to be advantageous in pollinator attraction, and we discuss whether emphasis of pigment patterns by structural color may increase floral recognition by pollinators.
iridescence; structural color; diffraction grating; ultraviolet; floral characteristics; pollination
The bright and glossy appearance of the flowers of Ranunculus repens was investigated spectroscopically and the optical results were correlated with the layered anatomy of the petal. The highly directional reflected light arises from the partially transparent, pigment-bearing epidermal layer, while a more diffused yellow colour is the result of scattering from the lower starch layer. This directionality of the light reflections causes the unusually intense gloss of the buttercup flower and the strong yellow reflection evident when holding the flower under the chin.
gloss in plants; optical spectroscopy; Ranunculus
The conical epidermal cells found on the petals of most Angiosperm species are so widespread that they have been used as markers of petal identity, but their function has only been analysed in recent years. This review brings together diverse data on the role of these cells in pollination biology.
The published effects of conical cells on petal colour, petal reflexing, scent production, petal wettability and pollinator grip on the flower surface are considered. Of these factors, pollinator grip has been shown to be of most significance in the well-studied Antirrhinum majus/bumble-bee system. Published data on the relationship between epidermal cell morphology and floral temperature were limited, so an analysis of the effects of cell shape on floral temperature in Antirrhinum is presented here. Statistically significant warming by conical cells was not detected, although insignificant trends towards faster warming at dawn were found, and it was also found that flat-celled flowers could be warmer on warm days. The warming observed is less significant than that achieved by varying pigment content. However, the possibility that the effect of conical cells on temperature might be biologically significant in certain specific instances such as marginal habitats or weather conditions cannot be ruled out.
Conical epidermal cells can influence a diverse set of petal properties. The fitness benefits they provide to plants are likely to vary with pollinator and habitat, and models are now required to understand how these different factors interact.
Antirrhinum majus; conical cell; epidermis; floral scent; floral temperature; flower colour; grip; petal; pollination; wettability
The KNOTTED1-like homeobox (KNOX) genes are best known for maintaining a pluripotent stem-cell population in the shoot apical meristem that underlies indeterminate vegetative growth, allowing plants to adapt their development to suit the prevailing environmental conditions. More recently, the function of the KNOX gene family has been expanded to include additional roles in lateral organ development such as complex leaf morphogenesis, which has come to dominate the KNOX literature. Despite several reports implicating KNOX genes in the development of carpels and floral elaborations such as petal spurs, few authors have investigated the role of KNOX genes in flower development. Evidence is presented here of a flower-specific KNOX function in the development of the elaborate flowers of the orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii, which have a three-lobed labellum petal with a prominent spur. Using degenerate PCR, four Class I KNOX genes (DfKN1–4) have been isolated, one from each of the four major Class I KNOX subclades and by reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR), it is demonstrated that DfKNOX transcripts are detectable in developing floral organs such as the spur-bearing labellum and inferior ovary. Although constitutive expression of the DfKN2 transcript in tobacco produces a wide range of floral abnormalities, including serrated petal margins, extra petal tissue, and fused organs, none of the vegetative phenotypes typical of constitutive KNOX expression were produced. These data are highly suggestive of a role for KNOX expression in floral development that may be especially important in taxa with elaborate flowers.
Dactylorhiza fuchsii, evolution, flower development, KNOX genes, labellum, orchids, petal shape, petal spur.
Increasing numbers of cellular pathways are now recognized to be regulated via proteolytic processing events. The rhomboid family of serine proteases plays a pivotal role in a diverse range of pathways, activating and releasing proteins via regulated intramembrane proteolysis. The prototype rhomboid protease, rhomboid-1 in Drosophila, is the key activator of epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor pathway signalling in the fly and thus affects multiple aspects of development. The role of the rhomboid family in plants is explored and another developmental phenotype, this time in a mutant of an Arabidopsis chloroplast-localized rhomboid, is reported here. It is confirmed by GFP-protein fusion that this protease is located in the envelope of chloroplasts and of chlorophyll-free plastids elsewhere in the plant. Mutant plants lacking this organellar rhomboid demonstrate reduced fertility, as documented previously with KOM—the one other Arabidopsis rhomboid mutant that has been reported in the literature—along with aberrant floral morphology.
Arabidopsis; chloroplast; flower development; membrane; pollen; protease; proteolysis; rhomboid
The blue colouration seen in the leaves of Selaginella willdenowii is shown to be iridescent. Transmission electron microscopy studies confirm the presence of a layered lamellar structure of the upper cuticle of iridescent leaves. Modelling of these multi-layer structures suggests that they are responsible for the blue iridescence, confirming the link between the observed lamellae and the recorded optical properties. Comparison of blue and green leaves from the same plant indicates that the loss of the blue iridescence corresponds to a loss of the multi-layer structure. The results reported here do not support the idea that iridescence in plants acts to enhance light capture of photosynthetically important wavelengths. The reflectance of light in the range 600–700 nm is very similar for both iridescent and non-iridescent leaves. However, owing to the occurrence of blue colouration in a wide variety of shade dwelling plants it is probable that this iridescence has some adaptive benefit. Possible adaptive advantages of the blue iridescence in these plants are discussed.
iridescence; multi-layer interference; plant optics; Selaginella willdenowii; tropical understorey plants
Colour is a consequence of the optical properties of an object and the visual system of the animal perceiving it. Colour is produced through chemical and structural means, but structural colour has been relatively poorly studied in plants.
This Botanical Briefing describes the mechanisms by which structures can produce colour. In plants, as in animals, the most common mechanisms are multilayers and diffraction gratings. The functions of structural colour are then discussed. In animals, these colours act primarily as signals between members of the same species, although they can also play roles in camouflaging animals from their predators. In plants, multilayers are found predominantly in shade-plant leaves, suggesting a role either in photoprotection or in optimizing capture of photosynthetically active light. Diffraction gratings may be a surprisingly common feature of petals, and recent work has shown that they can be used by bees as cues to identify rewarding flowers.
Structural colour may be surprisingly frequent in the plant kingdom, playing important roles alongside pigment colour. Much remains to be discovered about its distribution, development and function.
Diffraction grating; flower colour; interference; iridescence; multilayer; photoprotection; pollinator attraction; structural colour
The petal epidermis acts not only as a barrier to the outside world but also as a point of interaction between the flower and potential pollinators. The presence of conical petal epidermal cells has previously been shown to influence the attractiveness of the flower to pollinating insects. Using Antirrhinum isogenic lines differing only in the presence of a single epidermal structure, conical cells, we were able to investigate how the structure of the epidermis influences petal wettability by measuring the surface contact angle of water drops. Conical cells have a significant impact on how water is retained on the flower surface, which may have indirect consequences for pollinator behaviour. We discuss how the petal epidermis is a highly multifunctional one and how a battery of methods, including the use of isogenic lines, is required to untangle the impacts of specific epidermal properties in an ecological context.
We recently identified a new component of flavonoid transport pathways in Arabidopsis. The MATE protein FFT (Flower Flavonoid Transporter) is primarily found in guard cells and seedling roots, and mutation of the transporter results in floral and growth phenotypes. The nature of FFT's substrate requires further exploration but our data suggest that it is a kaempferol diglucoside. Here we discuss potential partner H+-ATPases and possible redundancy among the close homologs within the large Arabidopsis MATE family.
auxin; flavonoid; guard cell; pollen; transporter
FLOWER FLAVONOID TRANSPORTER (FFT) encodes a multidrug and toxin efflux family transporter in Arabidopsis thaliana. FFT (AtDTX35) is highly transcribed in floral tissues, the transcript being localized to epidermal guard cells, including those of the anthers, stigma, siliques and nectaries. Mutant analysis demonstrates that the absence of FFT transcript affects flavonoid levels in the plant and that the altered flavonoid metabolism has wide-ranging consequences. Root growth, seed development and germination, and pollen development, release and viability are all affected. Spectrometry of mutant versus wild-type flowers shows altered levels of a glycosylated flavonol whereas anthocyanin seems unlikely to be the substrate as previously speculated. Thus, as well as adding FFT to the incompletely described flavonoid transport network, it is found that correct reproductive development in Arabidopsis is perturbed when this particular transporter is missing.
Anther; fertility; flavonoid; MATE transporter; nectary; pollen