Turning over a leaf

Behind the Cover: New Phytologist 221:1, January 2019

What do leaf surface cells look like?

A recent study by Vofeley, Gallagher et al. aimed to uncover the diversity of cell shapes seen on leaf surfaces across land plants.

Image: mages of leaf epidermides illustrating some of the diverse cell shapes observed in plants. Courtesy of Madelaine Bartlett and Siobhan A. Braybrook.
Images of leaf epidermides illustrating some of the diverse cell shapes observed in plants. Courtesy of Madelaine Bartlett and Siobhan A. Braybrook.

The survey of 278 plant species revealed a wide diversity of cell shapes, a sample of which can be seen in the cover image for New Phytologist 221:1. Using plants sampled from two living plant collections, the team peeled the surface layer of cells from leaves and imaged them using light microscopy. Cells were then hand-traced from these images and used for mathematical analysis of shape, a process called ‘morphometrics’ from the Greek morphe (shape) and metria (measurement).

Morphometrics allows researchers to proscribe numbers to shape allowing them to compare shape quantitatively as opposed to using descriptive, qualitative, comparisons (e.g. longer, fatter, rounder, or wiggly-er). Without these images, and the quantification of shape, the team would have had a difficult time comparing cell shapes across plant species.

Read more about this paper in a blog post by Zoe Nemec Venza.

Blog post provided by Siobhan Braybrook, Madelaine Bartlett and Joseph Gallagher.

Read the paper: Vőfély, R. V., Gallagher, J., Pisano, G. D., Bartlett, M. and Braybrook, S. A. (2019) Of puzzles and pavements: a quantitative exploration of leaf epidermal cell shape. New Phytologist 221: 540-552. doi: 10.1111/nph.15461