Leaf structure affects a plant’s appearance: combined multiple-mechanisms intensify remarkable foliar variegation

Yun Shiuan Chen, Peter Chesson, Ho Wei Wu, Shang Hung Pao, Jian Wei Liu, Lee Feng Chien, Jean W.H. Yong, Chiou Rong Sheue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The presence of foliar variegation challenges perceptions of leaf form and functioning. But variegation is often incorrectly identified and misinterpreted. The striking variegation found in juvenile Blastus cochinchinensis (Melastomataceae) provides an instructive case study of mechanisms and their ecophysiological implications. Variegated (white and green areas, vw and vg) and non-variegated leaves (normal green leaves, ng) of seedlings of Blastus were compared structurally with microtechniques, and characterized for chlorophyll content and fluorescence. More limited study of Sonerila heterostemon (Melastomataceae) and Kaempferia pulchra (Zingiberaceae) tested the generality of the findings. Variegation in Blastus combines five mechanisms: epidermal, air space, upper mesophyll, chloroplast and crystal, the latter two being new mechanisms. All mesophyll cells (vw, vg, ng) have functional chloroplasts with dense thylakoids. The vw areas are distinguished by flatter adaxial epidermal cells and central trichomes containing crystals, the presence of air spaces between the adaxial epidermis and a colorless spongy-like upper mesophyll containing smaller and fewer chloroplasts. The vw area is further distinguished by having the largest spongy-tissue chloroplasts and fewer stomata. Both leaf types have similar total chlorophyll content and similar Fv/Fm (maximum quantum yield of PSII), but vg has significantly higher Fv/Fm than ng. Variegation in Sonerila and Kaempferia is also caused by combined mechanisms, including the crystal type in Kaempferia. This finding of combined mechanisms in three different species suggests that combined mechanisms may occur more commonly in nature than current understanding. The combined mechanisms in Blastus variegated leaves represent intricate structural modifications that may compensate for and minimize photosynthetic loss, and reflect changing plant needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-325
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Plant Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Blastus cochinchinensis
  • Chloroplast
  • Crystal
  • Kaempferia pulchra
  • Physical color
  • Sonerila heterostemon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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