The Leaf Structure and Function

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Photo (a) shows small oval-like stomata scattered on the bumpy surface of a leaf that is magnified 500 times; (b) is a close-up of a stoma showing the thick lip-like guard cells either side of an opening. Photo (a) and (b) are scanning electron micrographs. Photo (c) is a light micrograph of a leaf cross section that shows a large air space underneath two guard cells. The air space is surrounded by large oval and egg-shaped cells.
Visualized at 500x with a scanning electron microscope, several stomata are clearly visible on (a) the surface of this sumac (Rhus glabra) leaf. At 5,000x magnification, the guard cells of (b) a single stoma from lyre-leaved sand cress (Arabidopsis lyrata) have the appearance of lips that surround the opening. In this (c) light micrograph cross-section of an A. lyrata leaf, the guard cell pair is visible along with the large, sub-stomatal air space in the leaf. (credit: modification of work by Robert R. Wise; part c scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

OpenStax Biology 2e

The outermost layer of the leaf is the epidermis; it is present on both sides of the leaf and is called the upper and lower epidermis, respectively. Botanists call the upper side the adaxial surface (or adaxis) and the lower side the abaxial surface (or abaxis). The epidermis helps in the regulation of gas exchange. It contains stomata: openings through which the exchange of gases takes place. Two guard cells surround each stoma, regulating its opening and closing.

The epidermis is usually one cell layer thick; however, in plants that grow in very hot or very cold conditions, the epidermis may be several layers thick to protect against excessive water loss from transpiration. A waxy layer known as the cuticle covers the leaves of all plant species. The cuticle reduces the rate of water loss from the leaf surface. Other leaves may have small hairs (trichomes) on the leaf surface. Trichomes help to deter herbivory by restricting insect movements, or by storing toxic or bad-tasting compounds; they can also reduce the rate of transpiration by blocking air flow across the leaf surface.

Photo (a) shows a plant with many fuzzy white hairs growing from its surface. Scanning electron micrograph (b) shows branched tree-like hairs emerging from the surface of a leaf. The trunk of each hair is about 250 microns tall. Branches are somewhat shorter. Scanning electron micrograph (c) shows many multi-pronged hairs about 100 microns long that look like sea anemones scattered across a leaf surface.
Trichomes give leaves a fuzzy appearance as in this (a) sundew (Drosera sp.). Leaf trichomes include (b) branched trichomes on the leaf of Arabidopsis lyrata and (c) multibranched trichomes on a mature Quercus marilandica leaf. (credit a: John Freeland; credit b, c: modification of work by Robert R. Wise; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

Below the epidermis of dicot leaves are layers of cells known as the mesophyll, or “middle leaf.” The mesophyll of most leaves typically contains two arrangements of parenchyma cells: the palisade parenchyma and spongy parenchyma. The palisade parenchyma (also called the palisade mesophyll) has column-shaped, tightly packed cells, and may be present in one, two, or three layers. Below the palisade parenchyma are loosely arranged cells of an irregular shape. These are the cells of the spongy parenchyma (or spongy mesophyll). The air space found between the spongy parenchyma cells allows gaseous exchange between the leaf and the outside atmosphere through the stomata. In aquatic plants, the intercellular spaces in the spongy parenchyma help the leaf float. Both layers of the mesophyll contain many chloroplasts. Guard cells are the only epidermal cells to contain chloroplasts.

 Part A is a leaf cross section illustration. A flat layer of rectangular cells make up the upper and lower epidermis. A cuticle layer protects the outside of both epidermal layers. A stomatal pore in the lower epidermis allows carbon dioxide to enter and oxygen to leave. Oval guard cells surround the pore. Sandwiched between the upper and lower epidermis is the mesophyll. The upper part of the mesophyll is comprised of columnar cells called palisade parenchyma. The lower part of the mesophyll is made up of loosely packed spongy parenchyma. Part B is a scanning electron micrograph of a leaf in which all the layers described above are visible. Palisade cells are about 50 microns tall and 10 microns wide and are covered with tiny bumps, which are the chloroplasts. Spongy cells smaller and irregularly shaped. Several large bumps about 20 microns across project from the lower surface of the leaf.
In the (a) leaf drawing, the central mesophyll is sandwiched between an upper and lower epidermis. The mesophyll has two layers: an upper palisade layer comprised of tightly packed, columnar cells, and a lower spongy layer, comprised of loosely packed, irregularly shaped cells. Stomata on the leaf underside allow gas exchange. A waxy cuticle covers all aerial surfaces of land plants to minimize water loss. These leaf layers are clearly visible in the (b) scanning electron micrograph. The numerous small bumps in the palisade parenchyma cells are chloroplasts. Chloroplasts are also present in the spongy parenchyma, but are not as obvious. The bumps protruding from the lower surface of the leave are glandular trichomes, which differ in structure from the stalked trichomes. (credit b: modification of work by Robert R. Wise)

Like the stem, the leaf contains vascular bundles composed of xylem and phloem. The xylem consists of tracheids and vessels, which transport water and minerals to the leaves. The phloem transports the photosynthetic products from the leaf to the other parts of the plant. A single vascular bundle, no matter how large or small, always contains both xylem and phloem tissues.

 The scanning electron micrograph shows an oval vascular bundle. Small phloem cells make up the bottom of the bundle, and larger xylem cells make up the top. The bundle is surrounded by a ring of larger cells.
This scanning electron micrograph shows xylem and phloem in the leaf vascular bundle from the lyre-leaved sand cress (Arabidopsis lyrata). (credit: modification of work by Robert R. Wise; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

Source:

Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e

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