The cuticular wax of the dwarf mountain pine enhances photosynthesis by using fluorophores that convert UV light into blue light that can be used for photosynthesis under low-light conditions.

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The dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo) grows at high elevations in the Alps on vertical or nearly-vertical slopes, often leaving it shaded by other foliage.  Unlike many plants which produce seed seasonally, the mountain pine produces seed all-year round. The production and development of these seeds requires significant amounts of energy from photosynthesis, but the constant shading from other trees makes access to light difficult.  Thus, the mountain pine must be able to maximize its photosynthetic capacity even under low light-conditions in order to ensure seed production.

Plants normally absorb light in the visible spectrum, and either scatter or filter UV light because it can be damaging to multiple plant processes. However, the leaves of the dwarf mountain pine contain a waxy cuticle loaded with fluorophores, which absorb UV light and convert it into blue light, which can then be used for photosynthesis. This allows the mountain pine to increase the amount of light it can use for photosynthesis, providing it with energy even under low-light conditions.

This strategy was contributed by Maria Miller and Ceire McGinley.

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“[T]he P. mugo [Pinus] grown at high elevations in the Alps has a cuticular wax coat that also contains fluorophores, which convert the harmful solar UV into blue light. This additional blue light can be utilised for photosynthesis in low-light conditions, which gives the P. mugo ecological advantage over other Alpine species. The principle of turning useless…radiation into useful energy sets an example for new biological based coatings.” (Jacobs 2007:166)

Journal article
UV protective coatings: A botanical approachUV protective coatings: A botanical approach. Progress in Organic Coatings. 58(2-3): 166–171.Jacobs JF, Koper GJM, Ursem WNJ.

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