The role of peltate scales in desiccation tolerance of Pleopeltis polypodioides

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Main conclusion

The extreme drought tolerance of the resurrection fern is in part the result of the dorsal scales that assist in water distribution and controlled desiccation.

We studied the effect of peltate scales on water uptake and loss of the desiccation-tolerant epiphytic fern Pleopeltis polypodioides using optical and FTIR microscopy and staining with calcofluor, solophenyl flavine7GFE, and Ruthenium Red. We provide information on structure, property, and function of the scales by measuring water uptake and dehydration, contact angles, and metabolic activity. Peltate scales mainly contain cellulose, xylogalactans, and pectin. Water is absorbed from the center of scales, and the overlapping arrangement of scales facilitates surface spreading of water. Intact fronds hydrated fully within 5 h of imbibition of the apical pinna, without scales water uptake stopped after 1 h. Hydration rates via rhizomes followed a longer time course but also improved in the presence of scales. Fronds with and without scales lost half of their water content in 15 or 4 h, respectively. The overall metabolism of rapidly dehydrated fronds was significantly reduced compared with slowly dehydrated fronds. Thus, water management and metabolism of Pleopeltis are dependent on surface properties determined by peltate scales.

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Solophenyl flavine


Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy


Ruthenium red


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We thank Dr. T. Pesacreta for providing solophenyl flavine 7GFE 500 and Dr. O. Kizilkaya for his help with FTIR spectroscopy. This research was partially supported by NASA grants NNX10AP91G and NNX13AN05A.

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Correspondence to Karl H. Hasenstein.

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Electronic supplementary material

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Online Resource Video S1 Spreading of calcofluor solution on the dorsal surface of P. polypodioides. During the first 30 min of imbibition, the dye spreads from the apical pinnae towards rachis and the stipe. During the course of spreading, the dye strongly bounds to the peltate scales. Images were taken at 1 min intervals for 30 min (MP4 2471 kb)

Online Resource Video S2 Uptake of water through the central disc of the scale. Images were taken at 2 s intervals (MP4 960 kb)

Online Resource Video S3 Water movement underneath the scales and uptake via stalk of scale. Images that were taken at 2 s intervals (MP4 1129 kb)

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1195 kb)

Online Resource Video S1 Spreading of calcofluor solution on the dorsal surface of P. polypodioides. During the first 30 min of imbibition, the dye spreads from the apical pinnae towards rachis and the stipe. During the course of spreading, the dye strongly bounds to the peltate scales. Images were taken at 1 min intervals for 30 min (MP4 2471 kb)

Online Resource Video S2 Uptake of water through the central disc of the scale. Images were taken at 2 s intervals (MP4 960 kb)

Online Resource Video S3 Water movement underneath the scales and uptake via stalk of scale. Images that were taken at 2 s intervals (MP4 1129 kb)

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John, S.P., Hasenstein, K.H. The role of peltate scales in desiccation tolerance of Pleopeltis polypodioides . Planta 245, 207–220 (2017) doi:10.1007/s00425-016-2631-2

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  • Resurrection fern
  • Water uptake
  • Dehydration
  • FTIR microscopy
  • Metabolism