Reversible color change in leaves enhances pollinator attraction and reproductive success in Saururus chinensis (Saururaceae)

Bo Song, Jürg Stöcklin, Scott Armbruster, Yongqian Gao, Deli Peng, Hang Sun

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Background and Aims - Although there has been much experimental work on leaf colour change associated with selection generated by abiotic environmental factors and antagonists, the role of leaf colour change in pollinatorattraction has been largely ignored. We tested whether whitening of the apical leaves subtending the inflorescences of Saururus chinensis during flowering enhances pollinator attraction, and whether re-greening of the white leaves after flowering increases carbon assimilation and promotes seed development.

Methods - White leaves were removed or covered, and the effects of these manipulations on pollinator visitation and subsequent reproductive success were assessed. The net photosynthetic rates of leaves of different colour were measured and their photosynthetic contributions to seed development were evaluated.

Key Results - Saururus chinensis is able to self-pollinate autonomously, but depends largely on flies for pollination. White leaves had different reflectance spectra from green leaves, and white leaves attracted significantly more pollinators and led to significantly higher fruit and seed set. Although leaf whitening resulted in a reduction in photosynthetic capacity, it translated into only a small decrease in seed mass. When leaves had turned back from white to green after flowering their photosynthetic capacity was similar to that of ‘normal’ green leaves and promoted seed development.

- The reversible leaf colour change in S. chinensis appears to be adaptive because it enhances pollination success during flowering, with a small photosynthetic cost, while re-greening of these leaves after
flowering helps to meet the carbon requirements for seed development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)641-650
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number4
Early online date9 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2018


  • carbon assimilation
  • seed development
  • pollinator attraction
  • net photosynthetic rate
  • leaf colour change


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