Author(s): Veronica De Micco, Giovanna Aronne
In Mediterranean-type ecosystems, seasonal dimorphism is an adaptive strategy aimed to save water by developing brachyblasts with xeromorphic summer leaves as opposed to dolichoblasts with more mesomorphic winter leaves. The aim of this study was to analyse the anatomical properties of 1-year-old twigs of Cistus incanus subsp. incanus, a seasonally dimorphic shrub, to highlight properties allowing its adaptation to the Mediterranean environment. A more specific purpose was to verify the occurrence of seasonal dimorphism in wood anatomy in order to understand: (a) whether and to what extent the traits of efficiency/safety of water transport are expressed in brachyblasts and dolichoblasts, and (b) the effects on the formation of growth ring boundaries in wood. Our overall analysis showed that anatomical features of branches in C. incanus are designed to: (a) protect from desiccation by developing thick cuticle and suberized epidermal and sub-epidermal layers; (b) defend the plant from predators by accumulating phenolics; and (c) regulate water transport through the development of specific wood anatomy, according to the season, thus optimising properties of efficiency/safety. Regarding the latter point, our results indicated that brachyblast wood is safer than dolichoblast wood insofar as it has narrower and more frequent vessels; measurement of other specific anatomical traits, such as vessel wall thickness, suggested that brachyblast wood has a higher resistance to implosion due to drought-induced embolism. Finally, peculiar anatomy of brachyblast and dolichoblast wood results in the formation of so-called false rings. Hence, wood rings in C. incanus should be considered to be “seasonal” rather than “annual”.