Leaves of the Kukumakranka plant adapt to dry, hot conditions and continue photosynthesis by keeping their stomata open.

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Plants “breathe” or respire through their leaves by tiny adjustable openings in the leaves called stomata. The stomata enable carbon dioxide gas to enter the plant for photosynthesis. Oxygen and water vapor exit the leaves through stomata, as well. In many plants, when the outside temperature is warm and water evaporates more readily, plants close their stomata to prevent excessive water loss. Closing the stomata, however, can disrupt plant growth by preventing carbon dioxide from entering the leaves and thereby reducing photosynthesis.

A plant in South Africa called Kukumakranka (Gethyllis villosa) appears to have adaptations within its leaves to help it survive the hot and semi-arid climate.  G. villosa seems to keep many of its stomata open even in dry conditions, which helps the plant to continue to photosynthesize throughout the day. Exactly why G. villosa can maintain open stomata and not suffer from excessive water loss is currently unknown; however, researchers hypothesize that leaf chemistry and adaptations in the stomata help in the plant’s ability to adjust its response to dry conditions. An ability to continue to photosynthesize in warmer conditions could be beneficial as climate change influences the region.

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“During drought stress, the ability of leaf photosynthesis to adapt to dry conditions depends on a suite of alterations relating to leaf morphology, stomatal control and photochemistry. Under drought stress, G. villosa had a better photosynthetic performance than G. multifolia, which appears not to be related to foliar adaptations such as specific leaf mass (SLM), but to G. villosa‘s leaves maintaining their stomatal conductance (Gs), photosynthetic light compensation (LCP) and photon yields during the dry periods. Stomatal control of photosynthesis is a well-known adaptation in previous work from various ecosystems.” (Daniels et al. 2013:40) 

“Since both bulbous species occur in a semi-arid area, which is being threatened by progressive aridity due to climate change and increased shading from invasive species, the aim of this work is to therefore investigate the capacity for photosynthetic adaptation of both species to these environmental changes.” (Daniels et al. 2013:37)

Journal article
Photosynthetic Adaptation of two semi-arid species of Gethyllis (Kukumakranka) to drought-and-shade stressSouth African Journal of BotanyJanuary 1, 2013
Daniels CW; Mabusela WT; Marnewick JL; Valentine AJ

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