Revisiting an ecophysiological oddity: Hydathode-mediated foliar water uptake in Crassula species from southern Africa

Marc Fradera-Soler, Jozef Mravec, Alexander Schulz, Rafael Taboryski, Bodil Jørgensen, Olwen M. Grace*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

Hydathodes are usually associated with water exudation in plants. However, foliar water uptake (FWU) through the hydathodes has long been suspected in the leaf-succulent genus Crassula (Crassulaceae), a highly diverse group in southern Africa, and, to our knowledge, no empirical observations exist in the literature that unequivocally link FWU to hydathodes in this genus. FWU is expected to be particularly beneficial on the arid western side of southern Africa, where up to 50% of Crassula species occur and where periodically high air humidity leads to fog and/or dew formation. To investigate if hydathode-mediated FWU is operational in different Crassula species, we used the apoplastic fluorescent tracer Lucifer Yellow in combination with different imaging techniques. Our images of dye-treated leaves confirm that hydathode-mediated FWU does indeed occur in Crassula and that it might be widespread across the genus. Hydathodes in Crassula serve as moisture-harvesting structures, besides their more common purpose of guttation, an adaptation that has likely played an important role in the evolutionary history of the genus. Our observations suggest that ability for FWU is independent of geographical distribution and not restricted to arid environments under fog influence, as FWU is also operational in Crassula species from the rather humid eastern side of southern Africa. Our observations point towards no apparent link between FWU ability and overall leaf surface wettability in Crassula. Instead, the hierarchically sculptured leaf surfaces of several Crassula species may facilitate FWU due to hydrophilic leaf surface microdomains, even in seemingly hydrophobic species. Overall, these results confirm the ecophysiological relevance of hydathode-mediated FWU in Crassula and reassert the importance of atmospheric humidity for some arid-adapted plant groups.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant Cell and Environment
Volume47
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)460-481
ISSN0140-7791
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Keywords

  • Arid environments
  • Atmospheric water
  • Crassula
  • Foliar water uptake
  • Hydathodes
  • Southern Africa
  • Succulent plants
  • Wettability

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