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Oct 24, 2013 10:35 AM EDT

Underground ‘Living Stone’ Plant Has ‘Windows’ To Facilitate Photosynthesis


Lithops, a type of South African 'living stone' plant that lives underground in extremely dry conditions employs multiple mechanisms to enhance photosynthesis, according to a study conducted by Katie J. Field from the University of Sheffield and colleagues from the University of Cambridge and Abbey Brook Cactus Nursery in Derbyshire.

This finding provides new insights into how plants cope, respond and adapt to extreme conditions.

Lithops' underground life makes it difficult for them to get sufficient amount of sunlight required for the photosynthesis process. However, these pebble plants have certain features that allow them to survive.

The plant's top surface has 'windows' with specialized transparent pockets that allows the required light to diffuse to the photosynthetic tissues within the subterranean leaf. Interestingly, these pores also act as a sunscreen by preventing penetration of harmful UV light, Science Codes reports.

With the help of these adaptive features the plants minimize water loss and maximize photosynthetic food production.

The name Lithops is derived from the Ancient Greek for stone face, referring to the stone-like appearance of the plants. There are at least 400 different varieties of stone plants. Majority of them live totally or partially underground due to the arid environment that the plants inhabit.

The 'Living Stone' plants, which possess photosynthetic organs above the surface use a process known as non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) to prevent excess energy or sunlight from penetrating inside.

The finding has been published October 23 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

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