Tag Archives: Plant Science

Garlic and octopus battle tree disease

Image: From Tacuinum Sanitatis, ca. 1400.

Image: From Tacuinum Sanitatis, ca. 1400.

For millennia, garlic, the ‘bulb’ of Allium sativum, has been used medicinally to help make humans better. Whilst many of these so-called ‘cures’ may be more fanciful than factually accurate, evidence-based medicine, there are studies that attest to the effectiveness of garlic or extracts thereof and therefrom against a range of human health-compromising bacteria and fungi (e.g. studies by Giles Elsom et al.Simon Woods-Panzaru et al. and Daniel Tagoe et al.). Indeed, so commonplace have such ideas become that garlic can be used as an educational tool investigating the anti-microbial effects of plant extracts. So much for humans: Is this relevant to looking after the health of, say, trees? Well, apparently so. In the battle against fungal diseases of trees, garlic has been mobilised with some success in Northamptonshire (a county in the east Midlands of the UK). Jonathan Cocking (Managing Director of Arboricultural & Ecological Consultants, JCA Ltd), whose company hold an ‘experimental government licence’ to engage in this work, use an allicin*-based solution administered directly to the base of trees. The solution is injected into an infected tree through eight pipes (the ‘octopus’ connection…) and transported throughout the tree via the transpiration stream. Apparently, ‘the moment the active agent starts to encounter the disease, it destroys it’, BBC Environment Correspondent Claire Marshall explains. Although details of the formula used are not forthcoming, it apparently uses organically-grown cloves from Wales, and somehow the allicin involved is stable for up to one year (rather than the usual 5–10 minutes’ lifespan of the molecule(!)). According to JCA’s website, their ‘Allicin/Conquer Project’ was started in 2009, and so far has had success against such fungus/oomycete infections as Bleeding Canker of Horse ChestnutSudden Oak Death,  Acute Oak Decline and Chalara dieback of ash. Although seemingly effective, widespread use of this treatment is considered impractical and expensive, and is unlikely to be used except to save trees of ‘historic or sentimental value’. It’s always reassuring to know that it’s still down to ‘value’(and that so-predictable human obsession with money/profit, etc…) as to which trees are allowed to die and which are worthy of being saved (in the UK, at least; I’m sure elsewhere in the world a much more enlightened attitude to saving trees prevails…). Anyway, let’s just hope the 10 finalists in England’s ‘Tree of the Year’ competition are in that ‘sufficiently worthy’ category should they succumb to some life-threatening infection, whether fungal or oomycete (or viral or bacterial or mycoplasmal or prionic, or …)!

* Allicin, ‘garlic’s defence mechanism against attacks by pests’.

[I expect it’s been considered (and ruled out), but, mindful of reports of viruses accompanying imported garlic and the fact that plants are attacked by a wide range of virus pathogens, one trusts that the Welsh allicin, as organic as it no doubt is, is sourced from virus-free garlic and doesn’t pose a virus-infection threat to the trees into which it is injected… – Ed.]

Prize-winning banana research

Image: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, http://www.flagstaffotos.com.au.

Image: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, http://www.flagstaffotos.com.au.

Readers of this blog will probably be aware of the high esteem/newsworthiness in which bananas (edible fruits, botanically a berry – a new snippet of information to me! – produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa) are regarded. Well, in keeping with that musan leitmotif, here’s another banana-themed item. At the 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony in 2014, Kiyoshi Mabuchi et al. were suitably rewarded for their work investigating ‘why bananas are slippery’. Before this revelation elicits the anticipated “Eh? What?! They gave a prize for that??” reaction it should be pointed out that the Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded for achievements that make people laugh, but then think. In this case the Japanese tribologists’ work not only showed why banana skins are so hazardous (the comedic value of people slipping on discarded banana ‘skins’ has been known for generations), but also why apple and tangerine peel are not so ‘dangerous’. OK, so much for the ‘laugh’, what about the ‘thinking’? The team is interested in how friction and lubrication affect the movement of human limbs. The polysaccharide follicular gels that give banana skins their slippery properties are also found in the membranes in our own bodies where our bones meet and it is hoped that the botanical work will ultimately help in the development of a joint prosthesis. Banana research, going out on a limb?


[Ig Nobel Prizes (administered by Improbable Research) should not be confused with the more prestigious Nobel Prizes, whose list of prize-winners for 2014 didn’t include any banana-related research (so far as one could tell!). It is, however, noteworthy that Ig Nobels are presented for work done relatively recently; work that earns a ‘proper Nobel’ often takes years for it to be recognised. We would be interested to hear of any Ig Nobel Prize-winners who have gone on to win a Nobel Prize for their ‘ignoble’ work. Who’d have the last laugh then? Something to think about! – Ed.]

Better together…

Image: pixabay.com.

Image: pixabay.com.

No, this is not a belated bit of biased support for the Scottish referendum on independence from England  (which was rejected by those who voted and thereby prevented the United Kingdom becoming the anagrammatically amusing Untied Kingdom…). Rather, it is recognition that – at least in nature – sometimes things do work better when two partners co-operate rather than work against each other. Take for example the reef-building corals – an intimate mutualistic symbiosis between a unicellular alga, a dinoflagellate and an animal, the coral polyp. Put very simply, the alga provides much of the polyp’s food requirements by dint of its photosynthesis, which ultimately allows it to make the massive coral reefs. Although warm-water coral reefs are the basis of extremely rich and biodiverse ecosystems, they are nutritionally poor. This ‘nutrient paradox’ – originally recognised by Charles Darwin (is there any branch of biology that doesn’t have a contribution from this venerable Victorian?) – has traditionally been presumed to be due to very tight cycling/recycling of nutrients within the ecosystem (and the abundance of mutualistic symbioses therein, amongst other factors…). However, a new twist to this nutrient tale has recently been proposed by Orr Shapiro et al. They have revealed that, far from being static structures dependent upon the vagaries of currents to bring nutrients to them and remove waste products, the coral polyp actively generates micro-currents and eddies that promote nutrient inflow and exchange of materials. Using externally located cilia, these miniature structures whip up ‘vortical flows’ immediately adjacent to the epidermal surface, which reduces the exchange-limiting boundary layer at that site thereby facilitating mass transport between coral and the ocean. And in the way of all good discoveries, there are potential spin-offs to other areas of study. In this instance the team posits that investigation of these surface-situated cilia could be used as an alternative to the study of more-inaccessible, internalized cilia, e.g. those in the airways of animals. Thus, there may be unpredictable benefits for biomedicine from this photosynthetically dependent marine mutualism (I know, plants lighting up the path for others to follow – again!!). I’ve oftentimes wondered what the polyp brought to this relationship – aside from providing a chalky castle for the enslaved, hard-working alga. Well, I guess we now know, and it’s reassuring to discover (finally…?) that this intriguing symbiosis is much more mutual than we might previously have imagined.


[A video of this phenomenon can be seen on YouTube. The irony of internalization of the dinoflagellate symbiont – which, as its name implies, usually has flagella (two in this case, like much bigger versions of cilia)  – within the coral polyp and its consequential loss of its flagella on the one hand, and the importance of the polyp’s cilia (pale imitations of flagella?) in and to this relationship on the other, is not lost on Mr P. Cuttings. And this item gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘on the lash’ because cilium is Latin for eye-lash… – Ed.]

Effect of light on anatomical and biochemical aspects of hybrid larch embryos

Larch embryos In conifers, mature somatic embryos and zygotic embryos appear to resemble one another physiologically and morphologically. However, phenotypes of cloned conifer embryos can be strongly influenced by a number of in vitro factors and in some instances clonal variation can exceed that found in nature. A recent study in Annals of Botany examines whether zygotic embryos that develop within light-opaque cones differ from somatic embryos developing in dark/light conditions in vitro. Embryogenesis in larch is well understood both in situ and in vitro and thus provides a suitable system for addressing this question.

In larch embryos, light has a negative effect on protein accumulation, but a positive effect on phenol accumulation. Light did not affect morphogenesis, e.g. cotyledon number. Somatic embryos produced different amounts of phenolics, such as quercetrin, depending on light conditions. The greatest difference was seen in the embryonal root cap in all embryo types and conditions.

Effect of light conditions on anatomical and biochemical aspects of somatic and zygotic embryos of hybrid larch (Larix × marschlinsii). Annals of Botany January 20 2015 doi: 10.1093/aob/mcu254

Growth responses of the mangrove Avicennia marina to salinity

Avicennia marina Halophytic plants are characterized by enhanced growth under saline conditions. A recent study in Annals of Botany combines physiological and anatomical analyses to identify processes underlying growth responses of the mangrove Avicennia marina to salinities ranging from fresh to seawater conditions.

Following pre-exhaustion of cotyledonary reserves under optimal conditions (50% seawater), seedlings of A. marina were grown hydroponically in dilutions of seawater amended with nutrients. Whole-plant growth characteristics were analysed in relation to dry mass accumulation and its allocation to different plant parts. Gas exchange characteristics and stable carbon isotopic composition of leaves were measured to evaluate water use in relation to carbon gain. Stem and leaf hydraulic anatomy were measured in relation to plant water use and growth.

The results identified stem and leaf transport systems as central to understanding the integrated growth responses to variation in salinity from fresh to seawater conditions. Avicennia marina is revealed as an obligate halophyte, requiring saline conditions for development of the transport systems needed to sustain water use and carbon gain.

Growth responses of the mangrove Avicennia marina to salinity: development and function of shoot hydraulic systems require saline conditions. Annals of Botany January 19 2015 doi: 10.1093/aob/mcu257

Phytomonas: Trypanosomatids Adapted to Plant Environments

Phytomonas Over 100 years after trypanosomatids were first discovered in plant tissues, Phytomonas parasites have now been isolated across the globe from members of 24 different plant families. Most identified species have not been associated with any plant pathology and to date only two species are definitively known to cause plant disease. These diseases (wilt of palm and coffee phloem necrosis) are problematic in areas of South America where they threaten the economies of developing countries. In contrast to their mammalian infective relatives, our knowledge of the biology of Phytomonas parasites and how they interact with their plant hosts is limited. This review draws together a century of research into plant trypanosomatids, from the first isolations and experimental infections to the recent publication of the first Phytomonas genomes. The availability of genomic data for these plant parasites opens a new avenue for comparative investigations into trypanosomatid biology and provides fresh insight into how this important group of parasites have adapted to survive in a spectrum of hosts from crocodiles to coconuts.

Phytomonas: Trypanosomatids Adapted to Plant Environments. (2015) PLoS Pathog 11(1): e1004484. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004484

Thirsty? Then suck on a stone!

Golden gypsum crystals

Golden Gypsum Crystals from Winnipeg. Image: Rob Lavinsky/Wikimedia Commons

Whilst it is claimed that only the taxman can get blood out of a stone, it seems that some plants can abstract water from stone-like minerals.

Arguably, ahead of light, water is the most important abiotic factor that plants need and obtain from the environment. Although water is essential to plant life, it is not always available in sufficient amounts, and plants have evolved many adaptations that enable them to cope with water-limited environments – e.g. xerophytes in extremely arid areas, and halophytes in saline habitats. One strategy that was hitherto unrecognised is the extraordinary (I don’t think that’s too strong a word to use) ability of some plants to obtain large parts of their life-giving and -sustaining water from a mineral in the soil.

Analysing the isotopic composition of xylem sap in the rock rose Helianthemum squamatum, Sara Palacio et al. showed that it was similar to that of the water of crystallization in gypsum – CaSO4.2H2O, an inorganic mineral common in the plant’s environment. And, significantly, the composition of the water in the xylem differed from that of free water – i.e. that which is freely available within the soil (albeit in short supply!), the more usually assumed water source for plants. This therefore provided strong evidence that the plants were using the mineral as a water source – especially in the summer months when it accounted for 70–90% of the water used by these shallow-rooted plants.

Several other ‘coexisting shallow-rooted, sub-shrub species’ (the gypsum-specialist Lepidium subulatum – a gypsophyte – and the ‘non-specialists’ Linum suffruticosum and Helianthemum syriacum) behaved in an isotopically similar way to H. squamatum, suggesting that this phenomenon may be a widespread strategy of water-extraction by plants in this environment.

Although it is as yet unclear how the plants get hold of the water from this unusual source, it is suggested that high temperatures in the environment may cause the water to evaporate from the mineral when it can then be acquired by the plant.

Whilst this is a neat enough solution (pun recognised, but not intended!) for life on Earth, the authors conclude that ‘given the widespread occurrence of gypsum in dry lands throughout the Earth and in Mars, these results may have important implications for arid land reclamation and exobiology’. So, botanical research that may truly be ‘out of this world’!

[Intrigued by these intriguing gypsophytes? Then why not indulge your interest and read more of Sara Palacio et al.’s research in ‘Plants living on gypsum: beyond the specialist model’? – Ed.]

Phylogenetic relationships in Epidendroideae (Orchidaceae), one of the great flowering plant radiations

Annals of Botany The largest subfamily of orchids, Epidendroideae, represents one of the most significant diversifications among flowering plants in terms of pollination strategy, vegetative adaptation and number of species. Although many groups in the subfamily have been resolved, significant relationships in the tree remain unclear, limiting conclusions about diversification and creating uncertainty in the classification. This study brings together DNA sequences from nuclear, plastid and mitochrondrial genomes in order to clarify relationships, to test associations of key characters with diversification and to improve the classification.

All tested characters show significant association with speciation in Epidendroideae, suggesting that no single character accounts for the success of this group. Rather, it appears that a succession of key features appeared that have contributed to diversification, sometimes in parallel.

J.V. Freudenstein and M.W. Chase (2015) Phylogenetic relationships in Epidendroideae (Orchidaceae), one of the great flowering plant radiations. Annals of Botany, January 11, 2015 doi: 10.1093/aob/mcu253

Diversity, distribution and roles of osmoprotective compounds accumulated in halophytes under abiotic stress

Annals of Botany Osmolytes are low-molecular-weight organic solutes, a broad group that encompasses a variety of compounds such as amino acids, tertiary sulphonium and quaternary ammonium compounds, sugars and polyhydric alcohols. Osmolytes are accumulated in the cytoplasm of halophytic species in order to balance the osmotic potential of the Na+ and Cl− accumulated in the vacuole. The advantages of the accumulation of osmolytes are that they keep the main physiological functions of the cell active, the induction of their biosynthesis is controlled by environmental cues, and they can be synthesized at all developmental stages. In addition to their role in osmoregulation, osmolytes have crucial functions in protecting subcellular structures and in scavenging reactive oxygen species.

This review discusses the diversity of osmolytes among halophytes and their distribution within taxonomic groups, the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence their accumulation, and their role in osmoregulation and osmoprotection. Increasing the osmolyte content in plants is an interesting strategy to improve the growth and yield of crops upon exposure to salinity. Examples of transgenic plants as well as exogenous applications of some osmolytes are also discussed. Finally, the potential use of osmolytes in protein stabilization and solvation in biotechnology, including the pharmaceutical industry and medicine, are considered.

Slama, I., Abdelly, C., Bouchereau, A., Flowers, T., & Savouré, A. Diversity, distribution and roles of osmoprotective compounds accumulated in halophytes under abiotic stress. (2015) Annals of Botany, January 5, 2015 doi: 10.1093/aob/mcu239

Strasburger’s Plant Sciences [Including Prokaryotes and Fungi]







By Andreas Bresinsky Christian Körner, Joachim W. Kadereit Gunther Neuhaus and Uwe Sonnewald. Springer, 2013

One of my first botany memories was buying a second-hand copy of Strasburger’s Lehrbuch der Botanik – in German – and marvelling at the many images that illustrated that weighty tome. Attempts to translate passages of interest were painfully slow with my elementary science German, so I never managed to appreciate the text of that textbook. Whether that experience influenced me towards a career in botany we’ll probably never know, but it certainly left a lasting impression.

Eduard Strasburger – that book’s eponymous originator – was a Polish-German botanist and one of the most notable plant scientists of the 19th century. Amongst his many botanical achievements – which ranged from sexual reproduction to the ascent of sap – he is widely considered to be the founder of modern plant cell biology (Volkmann et al., 2012). However, one of his most enduring legacies is the textbook that still bears his name over 100 years since his death in 1912. As the present book’s Preface advises, Strasburger’s Lehrbuch der Botanik für Hochschulen was first published in 1894, and has “greatly influenced university teaching in Germany and neighboring [US English prevails throughout the text] countries, and its 36 editions also mirror the dynamic history of the plant sciences”. Although still published under Eduard Strasburger’s name, it has always been a “multi-author effort, and Strasburger himself invited his colleagues at the Botanical Institute of Bonn University as contributors to the first edition.” Having had my attempts to penetrate the German version of this iconic textbook thwarted, the opportunity to review an English language edition was one I didn’t want to pass up.

In keeping with Strasburger’s multi-author vision for the book (which is probably more in the nature of a project that has evolved since its authorship has changed several times during its 120-year existence), the present 1,302 paged text [hereafter referred to as Strasburger 2013] containing 1158 illustrations over two volumes is divided into four parts, each a reflection of the breadth of knowledge and interests of the author(s) responsible for their compilation. Thus, in Volume 1 we have Part I Structure by Gunther Neuhaus with four chapters entitled, Molecular Basics: The Building Blocks of Cells; The Structure and Ultrastructure of the Cell; The Tissues of Vascular Plants; and Morphology and Anatomy of Vascular Plants. Part II Physiology by Uwe Sonnewald covers Physiology of Metabolism; of Development; of Movement; and Allelophysiology [“the diversity of physiological relationships that plants have with other organisms” – p. 9 of Introduction]. Volume 2’s sections are Part III Evolution and Systematics co-authored by Joachim W. Kadereit and Andreas Bresinsky, with chapters on Evolution; and Systematics and Phylogeny. Finally, Part IV Ecology by Christian Körner, whose four chapters cover: Basics of Plant Ecology; Plant–Environment Interactions; Ecology of Populations and Vegetation; and Vegetation of the Earth. The second volume concludes with a Timeline, Sources [References] [which supplement further reading associated with individual chapters], and the Index. The first volume commences with a 10-page Introduction which considers such notions as what Botany is, what is life?, the special position of Biology, and classification and significance of plant sciences. Scattered throughout both volumes are 34 ‘Boxes’ [which provide more specialist information on such concepts as “Cell fractionation”, “Types of stele”, “Important units in photobiology”, “Thale cress: Arabidopsis thaliana”, and “Effects of CO2 on plant growth”], and 14 ‘Topical Insights’ [presumably the “additional contributions by renowned experts in the field” per the publisher’s flyer, and which range from Christophe Benning’s “Galactolipids and membrane remodelling” to “Forest structure and gap models” by Hank Shugart via “The origin and early evolution of flowers” by Peter Endress and James Doyle and “Leaf nitrogen: A key to photosynthetic performance” by John Evans].

I’ve reviewed several English language plant biology/botany texts over the years and in my view Strasburger 2013 is probably unique. For example, it takes a rather broad interpretation of the subject matter of plant sciences (yes, I note the use of this binomial rather than the term ‘botany’ in its German antecedants) to include algae (which is reasonable since green algal ancestors are probably progenitors of the true Kingdom Plantae), fungi, and prokaryotes. Whilst inclusion of eukaryotic fungi may also be considered reasonable in a botany text (they are not animals and are plant-like in some respects…), incorporation of prokaryotes is unexpected; although these organisms feature mainly in the Evolution and Systematics part of Strasburger 2013. Wisely anticipating that concern, the book admirably defends its stance in the Preface thus, “The inclusion of bacteria, archaea, and the various lineages referred to as fungi may not be justified from a phylogenetic perspective when dealing with plants, but is necessary considering the important evolutionary and ecological interactions between plants and these organisms”. I can’t argue with that.

Part I’s Structure and Ultrastructure of the Cell is a comprehensive section which is reminiscent of Gunning (2009) (but with coverage here of cell walls!). And both The Tissues of Vascular Plants, and Morphology and Anatomy of Vascular Plants chapters could give Esau’s Plant Anatomy: Meristems, Cells, and Tissues of the Plant Body (Evert, 2006) a good run for its money, and incorporate more detail than is common in competing general plant science texts e.g. Raven Plant Biology (Evert and Eichhorn, 2012) and Botany: An introduction to Plant Biology (Mauseth, 2014). Part II Physiology compares favourably with Plant Physiology (Taiz and Zeiger, 2010) and with the likes of Physiological Plant Ecology (Larcher, 2003) or Plant Physiological Ecology (Lambers et al., 2008). Part III’s systematics section is a substantial contribution extending from prokaryotes to the Plant Kingdom, and its angiosperm section alone is reminiscent of Judd et al. (2007). But, and intriguingly, the term Kingdom is used in place of the more usual (and more widely understood?) term Domain. Hence, Strasburger 2013 talks of 3 Kingdoms (Domains) (e.g. p. 680), which would probably confuse those of us who are used to viewing the living world as consisting of 5 kingdoms but subsumed within three Domains. And chapters in Part IV’s substantial ecology section also bear comparison with the texts of Larcher (2003) and Lambers et al. (2008), whilst the Vegetation of the Earth chapter is a near-encyclopaedic compendium of coloured photographic images of the planet’s varied habitats.

However, throughout the tome there is no great emphasis on molecular biology – in the sense of relating developmental or physiological phenomena to the genes implicated therein, so Strasburger 2013 is no competition for the likes of Plant Biology (Smith et al., 2010) or The Molecular Life of Plants (Jones et al., 2013) (nor even Taiz and Zeiger (2010) or Evert and Eichhorn (2013) in this respect). Although, Strasburger 2013’s scope is broader than the former three of those four texts, this seems to be a serious omission at worst; a missed opportunity at best. It is undeniable that the molecular-genetic dimension is an important – essential, indeed – component of our modern day understanding of plant biological processes and phenomena, especially at the sub-cellular and biochemical/physiological level, which are a major focus of Parts I and II. In this respect Strasburger 2013 probably doesn’t fully “mirror the dynamic history of the plant sciences” (2nd paragraph of Preface), and is therefore a little out of step with some of its major English-language textbook competitors. But, how serious a deficiency this will be viewed by potential readers of Strasburger 2013 will depend on what they want from a botany – sorry, plant science – textbook (and how happy they will be to pay £449.50 for this idiosyncratic text).

An interesting inclusion in Strasburger 2013 is the 3.5 pages of ‘Timeline’ [“a selection of important contributions to Plant Sciences (Botany) from their origins up to the year 2000”], which extends from Theophrastus’ Enquiry into Plants of c. 300 BCE to the end of the second millennium CE’s sequencing of Arabidopsis thaliana‘s genome by The Arabidopsis Genome Initiative. But why does stop at 2000? For a book published in 2013 you’d expect at least some mention of 13 year’s additional noteworthy botanical achievements post-2000 (they do exist). Or, at least, to extend the timeline until 2008, the year of publication of Strasburger’s 36th German language edition upon which Strasburger 2013 is based.

The 14 Topical Insights are a nice touch. Scattered throughout, but integrated within, the book’s 14 chapters (but, no, not one per chapter!), they reflect a similar development one has witnessed more generally in plant biology textbooks in recent years. In all cases they are an attempt to promote that all-important topicality that helps to ensure the book has that ‘cutting-edge’ feel and is appropriately up-to-date (which should ensure that it is recommended, bought and hopefully read). It was therefore good to read about scientists other than the books’ co-authors, and on a range of interesting and relevant topics. One that caught my eye was Todd Dawson’s contribution entitled “From where do plants take their water?” which examined the use of stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in water in plant physiology/ecology. Because the ratios of the different isotopes vary in water molecules from different sources, and are in turn reflected in the isotopic composition of water within the plant, this approach can be used to determine which sources of water plants actually exploit in the environment. Although published too late for inclusion in Strasburger 2013, that piece seems to anticipate Palacio et al. (2014)’s revelation that certain plants use the water of crystallisation associated with the mineral gypsum as a major source of water. How insightful and topical is that!

The impressive 30 pages of 3-columned Index extends from the curiously spelt – and therefore alphabetically misplaced – “Aacetate [sic.]-malonate pathway” and “Aautotrophy [sic.]” to” Zygotene” and “Zygotic embryo”, and has entries listed under every letter of the alphabet. However, I found no mention in the index – which presumably also means no inclusion and coverage within the text* – of strigolactones [“chemical signals for fungal symbionts and parasitic weeds in plant roots” – Akiyama and Hayashi, 2006]. In view of Strasburger 2013’s inclusion of Fungi within its pages to emphasise allelophysiology, this omission is unexpected, and arguably difficult to defend (and incidentally impacts upon one’s view of the up-to-dateness of the 36th German edition of Strasburger…). Surprisingly also, since Strasburger 2013 features William Bond’s Topical Insight entitled “A world without fire”, and in view of the book’s strong ecophysiological dimension, the Index has no entry for karrikins (and which are presumably therefore not covered within the text*). Karrikins are “a group of plant growth regulators of the butenolide class found in the smoke of burning plant material”. They are therefore compounds which have considerable plant science interest and ecological significance, and – one would have thought – are ideal for inclusion in Strasburger 2013. But, and before this is challenged by those who – rightly – state that these compounds weren’t named karrikins (e.g. Chiwocha et al., 2009) until after the 2008 publication date of the 36th German edition of Strasburger upon which this English translation is based, their omission from this English edition is still an issue because it is quite clear that Strasburger 2013 is not constrained by that 2008 date. Supporting that view is Bond’s own Topical Insight which cites references from 2008, 2009, and 2010 (and e.g. Körner’s chapter 14 in Strasburger 2013’s main text includes several 2011 and 2012-published references). Which accords with the Publisher’s statement that Strasburger 2013 is based upon, and not a direct translation of, the 2008 German edition. With more optimism I also searched the Index for forisome(s), ATP-independent contractile proteins in the sieve elements of some plants (which are exciting interest because of their potential exploitation as a so-called biomimetic ‘smart material’). These sub-cellular structures were named shortly after the start of the current millennium by Knoblauch et al. (2003), and so well before the all-important year of 2008. Sadly, that term was not found either (and which presumably also indicates that any mention thereof is absent from Strasburger 2013’s main text*). What this comparatively simplistic scrutiny of the Index reveals is that, although some attempts to include more up-to-date references than the 2008 German Strasburger edition permitted have taken place (and which are laudable), and notwithstanding the inclusion of the Topical Insights with some post-2008 references, one should not infer that the whole of the main text is as up-to-date as its 2013 publication date suggests; Strasburger 2013 still seems largely rooted in the ‘noughties’. And these forisome, karrikin and strigolactone revelations are illustrative of the main issue I have with Strasburger 2013

This 2013 English translation is based on the 36th German language edition of Strasburger published in 2008. As the first English version since the 1976 translation of the 30th German Edition, Strasburger 2013 is to be welcomed. However, given that gap of nearly 40-years, and encouraged by having seen some attempts to update the text for researches/references post-2008, it seems a great pity that the publisher didn’t wait just a little longer to provide an English translation of 2014’s 37th German Edition of Strasburger (wherein one hopes such issues as forisomes, karrikins and strigolactones will have been addressed…). That tome should be as up-to-date as it can reasonably be expected to be and would arguably be a more fitting re-entry of Springer into the highly competitive English language plant science textbook market after an absence of nearly four decades. Given that English is not only a global lingua franca, but is also the international language of science, and that English is spoken by approx. 335 million people (cf. c. 78 million for German), one can’t help but think that a ‘Strasburger 2014’ (or even Strasburger 2015 – but don’t leave it any longer or we’ll have issues of Strasburger 2013 up-to-datedness again!) might have been a better way to extend – and expand? – Strasburger’s legacy beyond “Germany and neighboring countries” (2nd paragraph of Preface) by tapping into that much larger community of anglophone plant scientists, particularly in the USA.


Akiyama K, Hayashi H (2006) Strigolactones: Chemical Signals for Fungal Symbionts and Parasitic Weeds in Plant Roots. Annals of Botany 97: 925–931.

Chiwocha SDS, Dixon KW, Flematti GR, et al. (2009) Karrikins: A new family of plant growth regulators in smoke. Plant Science 177: 252–256.

Evert RF (2006) Esau’s Plant Anatomy: Meristems, Cells, and Tissues of the Plant Body: Their Structure, Function, and Development, 3e. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Evert RF, Eichhorn SE (2012) Raven Biology of Plants, 8e. WH Freeman.

Gunning BES (2009) Plant Cell Biology on DVD. Springer.

Jones R, Ougham H, Thomas H, Waaland S (2013) The Molecular Life of Plants. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Judd, WS, Campbell CS, Kellogg EA, Stevens PF, Donoghue MJ (2007) Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach, 3e. Sinauer Associates.

Knoblauch M, Noll GA, Müller T, et al. (2003) ATP-independent contractile proteins from plants. Nature Materials 2: 600–603.

Lambers, H, Chapin III, FS, Pons, TL (2008) Plant Physiological Ecology. Springer.

Larcher W (2003) Physiological Plant Ecology, 4e. Springer.

Mauseth JD (2014) Botany: An introduction to Plant Biology, 5e. Jones & Bartlett.

Palacio S, Azorín J, Montserrat-Martí G, Ferrio JP (2014) The crystallization water of gypsum rocks is a relevant water source for plants. Nature Communications 5:4660 doi: 10.1038/ncomms5660.

Smith AM, Coupland G, Dolan L, et al. (2010) Plant Biology. Garland Science.

Taiz L, Zeiger E (2010) Plant Physiology, 5e. Sinauer Associates Inc.

Volkmann D, Baluška F, Menzel D (2012) Eduard Strasburger (1844-1912): founder of modern plant cell biology. Protoplasma 249: 1163-1172.

*   NB this review based upon a limited-functionality ebook version of Strasburger 2013, which did not permit searching of the text.