Structural organization of the spongy mesophyll


Many plant leaves have two layers of photosynthetic tissue: the palisade and spongy meso- phyll. Whereas palisade mesophyll consists of tightly packed columnar cells, the structure of spongy mesophyll is not well characterized and often treated as a random assemblage of irregularly shaped cells. Using micro-computed tomography imaging, topological analysis, and a comparative physiological framework, we examined the structure of the spongy mesophyll in 40 species from 30 genera with laminar leaves and reticulate venation. A spectrum of spongy mesophyll diversity encompassed two dominant phenotypes: first, an ordered, honeycomblike tissue structure that emerged from the spatial coordination of multilobed cells, conforming to the physical principles of Euler’s law; and second, a less- ordered, isotropic network of cells. Phenotypic variation was associated with transitions in cell size, cell packing density, mesophyll surface-area-to-volume ratio, vein density, and maxi- mum photosynthetic rate. These results show that simple principles may govern the organization and scaling of the spongy mesophyll in many plants and demonstrate the presence of structural patterns associated with leaf function. This improved understanding of mesophyll anatomy pro- vides new opportunities for spatially explicit analyses of leaf development, physiology, and biomechanics.

New Phytologist