Phototropic solar tracking in sunflower plants: an integrative perspective.
BACKGROUND One of the best-known plant movements, phototropic solar tracking in sunflower (Helianthus annuus), has not yet been fully characterized. Two questions are still a matter of debate. (1) Is the adaptive significance solely an optimization of photosynthesis via the exposure of the leaves to the sun? (2) Is shade avoidance involved in this process? In this study, these concepts are discussed from a historical perspective and novel insights are provided. SCOPE AND METHODS Results from the primary literature on heliotropic growth movements led to the conclusion that these responses cease before anthesis, so that the flowering heads point to the East.
Based on observations on 10-week-old plants, the diurnal East-West oscillations of the upper fifth of the growing stem and leaves in relation to the position of the sun (inclusive of nocturnal re-orientation) were documented, and photon fluence rates on the leaf surfaces on clear, cloudy and rainy days were determined. In addition, the light-response curve of net CO2 assimilation was determined on the upper leaves of the same batch of plants, and evidence for the occurrence of shade-avoidance responses in growing sunflower plants is summarized.
CONCLUSIONS Only elongating, vegetative sunflower shoots and the upper leaves perform phototropic solar tracking. Photon fluence response and CO2 assimilation measurements cast doubt on the ‘photosynthesis-optimization hypothesis’ as the sole explanation for the evolution of these plant movements. We suggest that the shade-avoidance response, which maximizes light-driven CO2 assimilation, plays a major role in solar tracking populations of competing sunflower plants, and an integrative scheme of these growth movements is provided.