Photosynthetic symmetry of sun and shade leaves of different orientations

Evan H. De Lucia, Hemanth D. Shenoi, Shawna L. Naidu, Thomas A. Day

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


The photosynthetic responses to light of leaves irradiated on the adaxial or abaxial surfaces, were measured for plants with contrasting leaf orientations. For vertical-leaf species of open habitats (Eryngium yuccifolium and Silphium terebinthinaceum), photosynthetic rates were identical when irradiated on either surface. However, for horizontal-leaf species of open habitats (Ambrosia trifida and Solidago canadensis), light-saturated rates of photosynthesis for adaxial irradiation were 19 to 37% higher than rates for abaxial irradiation. Leaves of understory plants (Asarum canadense and Hydrophyllum canadense) were functionally symmetrical although they had horizontal orientation. Photosynthetic rates were measured at saturating CO2, thus differences in the response to incident irradiance presumably resulted from complex interactions of light and leaf optical properties rather than from stomatal effects. Differences in absorptance (400-700 nm) among leaf surfaces were evident for horizontal-leaf species but the primary determinant of functional symmetry was leaf anatomy. Functionally symmetrical leaves had upper and lower palisade layers of equal thickness (vertical leaves of open habitats) or were composed primarily of a single layer of photosynthetic cells (horizontal leaves of understory habitats). Photosynthetic symmetry of vertical-leaf species may be an adaptation to maximize daily integrated carbon gain and water-use efficiency, whereas asymmetry of horizontal-leaf species may be an adaptation to maximize daily integrated carbon gain and photosynthetic nutrient-use efficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-57
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Functional symmetry
  • Leaf anatomy
  • Leaf orientation
  • Optical properties
  • Photosynthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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