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J Exp Bot. 2000 Jun;51(347):1107-15.

Functional role of anthocyanins in the leaves of Quintinia serrata A. Cunn.

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Plant Science Group, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.


The protective functions that have been ascribed to anthocyanins in leaves can be performed as effectively by a number of other compounds. The possibility that anthocyanins accumulate most abundantly in leaves deficient in other phytoprotective pigments has been tested. Pigment concentrations and their histological distribution were surveyed for a sample of 1000 leaves from a forest population of Quintinia serrata, which displays natural polymorphism in leaf colour. Eight leaf phenotypes were recognized according to their patterns of red coloration. Anthocyanins were observed in almost all combinations of every leaf tissue, but were most commonly located in the vacuoles of photosynthetic cells. Red leaves contained two anthocyanins (Cy-3-glc and Cy-3-gal), epicuticular flavones, epidermal flavonols, hydroxycinnamic acids, chlorophylls, and carotenoids. Green leaves lacked anthocyanins, but had otherwise similar pigment profiles. Foliar anthocyanin levels varied significantly between branches and among trees, but were not correlated to concentrations of other pigments. Anthocyanins were most abundant in older leaves on trees under canopies with south-facing gaps. These data indicate that anthocyanins are associated with photosynthesis, but do not serve an auxiliary phytoprotective role. They may serve to protect shade-adapted chloroplasts from brief exposure to high intensity sunflecks.

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