Development and growth form of a neotropical liana Croton nuntians: The effect of light and mode of attachment on the biomechanics of the stem

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Journal of Plant Growth Regulation


The neotropical liana Croton nuntians (Euphorbiaceae) can occur in a variety of different growth habits. Juvenile freestanding plants are mechanically stable without support and resemble morphologically young trees or shrubs, whereas adult plants are climbers. Ontogenetic variation of bending and torsion properties of different growth phases are analyzed by measurements of flexural stiffness, structural bending modulus, torsional stiffness and structural torsional modulus. Mechanical and anatomical data show two fundamentally different patterns for juvenile freestanding and adult climbing plants. In freestanding plants, mechanical properties and the contribution of cortex, wood, and pith to the stem cross-section vary only little during ontogeny as is typical for semi-self-supporting plants. In contrast, climbing plants become significantly more flexible during ontogeny, as is characteristic for lianas. This is accompanied by a transition to the formation of a less dense wood type with large diameter vessels and an increasing contribution of flexible tissues (less dense wood and cortex) to the cross-sectional area and the axial second moment of area of the stems. Depending on the environmental conditions, freestanding plants can differ considerably in their appearance due to differences in branching system or stem taper. Therefore the influence of light quantity, measured as percentage of canopy opening, on the mechanical properties and the stem anatomy was tested. Freestanding plants grown with strong shade are significantly more stiff in bending compared with plants grown with a moderate light environment.