Xeromorphic traits help to maintain photosynthesis in the perhumid climate of a Taiwanese cloud forest
Floods can completely submerge terrestrial plants but some wetland species can sustain O2 and CO2 exchange with the environment via gas films forming on superhydrophobic leaf surfaces. We used high resolution synchrotron X-ray phase contrast micro-tomography in a novel approach to visualise gas films on submerged leaves of common cordgrass (Spartina anglica). 3D tomograms enabled a hitherto unmatched level of detail regarding the micro-topography of leaf gas films. Gas films formed only on the superhydrophobic adaxial leaf side (water droplet contact angle, Φ=162°) but not on the abaxial side (Φ=135°). The adaxial side of the leaves of common cordgrass is plicate with a longitudinal system of parallel grooves and ridges and the vast majority of the gas film volume was found in large ∼180μm deep elongated triangular volumes in the grooves and these volumes were connected to each neighbouring groove via a fine network of gas tubules (∼1.7μm diameter) across the ridges. In addition to the gas film retained on the leaf exterior, the X-ray phase contrast micro-tomography also successfully distinguished gas spaces internally in the leaf tissues, and the tissue porosity (gas volume per unit tissue volume) ranged from 6.3% to 20.3% in tip and base leaf segments, respectively. We conclude that X-ray phase contrast micro-tomography is a powerful tool to obtain quantitative data of exterior gas features on biological samples because of the significant difference in electron density between air, biological tissues and water.