• Secale cereale L;
  • chlorophyll fluorescence;
  • epidermal transmittance;
  • flavonoids;
  • hydroxycinnamic acid conjugates;
  • leaf development;
  • ultraviolet screening pigments


Epidermally located ultraviolet (UV)-absorbing phenolic compounds, flavonoids and hydroxycinnamic acid esters (HCAs), can shield the underlying tissues in plants against harmful UV-radiation. The relative importance of the two different classes of phenolic compounds for UV-screening was a matter of recent debate. Using a non-invasive method based on chlorophyll fluorescence measurements to estimate epidermal UV transmittance, the relationship between epidermal UV shielding and the content of the two different groups of secondary phenolic compounds in the epidermal layers and the underlying photosynthetic mesophyll of developing rye primary leaves grown under supplementary UV-B radiation was investigated. From the fourth to the tenth day after sowing, epidermally located flavonoids increased in an age- and irradiation-dependent manner, whereas mesophyll flavonoids and epidermal HCAs, mainly ferulic acid and p-coumaric acid esters, were constitutively present and did not vary in their contents over the observed time period. There was an excellent correlation between epidermal UV-A and UV-B absorbances as assessed by chlorophyll fluorescence measurements and contents of epidermal flavonoids. However, HCAs showed an additional contribution to UV-B shielding. In contrast, mesophyll flavonoids did not seem to play a respective role. When absorbances of the abaxial and adaxial epidermal layers were compared, it became apparent that in fully expanded primary leaves epidermal tissues from both sides were equally effective in absorption of UV-radiation. However, the earlier and more UV-exposed abaxial epidermis of young unrolling leaves showed a significantly higher absorption. It is shown that in early stages of development the epidermal HCAs are the dominant UV-B protective compounds of the primary leaf. This function is increasingly replaced by the epidermal flavonoids during leaf development and acclimation. The application of chlorophyll fluorescence measurements has been proven to be a useful tool for estimating relative contents of these compounds in epidermal tissue.