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Characteristics of green–blue fluorescence generated from the adaxial sides of leaves of tree species

Nakayama, Masayoshi, Iwashina, Tsukasa
Journal of plant research 2017 v.130 no.2 pp. 301-310
Aucuba japonica, Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua, Cleyera japonica, Ligustrum japonicum, Osmanthus, Trochodendron aralioides, birds, color, fluorescence, fruits, leaves, pollination, solar radiation, tissues, trees, ultraviolet radiation
We discovered that some tree species have leaves whose adaxial sides show bright green–blue fluorescence upon exposure to ultraviolet irradiation. In total, 141 native Japanese species belonging to 47 families were analyzed, and the brightness of the leaf fluorescence, represented by the L* values (Lab color space) of the pictures, was evaluated. The species possessing the brightest fluorescent leaves, with L* > 50, were Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua, and Cleyera japonica of Theaceae, Osmanthus heterophyllus and Ligustrum japonicum of Oleaceae, Aucuba japonica of Garryaceae, and Trochodendron aralioides of Trochodendraceae. These species are propagated by pollination or seed dispersion by birds, except T. aralioides. The fluorescence was specifically observed in the cuticle tissues of the epidermal cells, indicating that the fluorescence is a signal to other organisms that can perceive the fluorescence under natural light. Species possessing the bright leaves represented 5% of the total species tested, while species possessing dark leaves, with L* ≤ 40, represented 88.6%. We deduce that the fluorescence enables the organisms to easily distinguish the minority species possessing bright leaves from the surrounding plants, which were mostly trees species with dark leaves. The structure of A. japonica var. borealis, in which dark leaves only surround its fruits while the rest of the tree is covered by bright leaves, may be useful to signal the presence of fruits to the organisms. We hypothesize that the fluorescence contributes to the propagation of the tree species by helping birds to distinguish these particular trees and/or locate the fruits.