Physiological anatomy and function of the membranous grass ligule



Of the three component organs of the grass leaf – blade, sheath and ligule – the ligule is the least studied and the least understood. Traditionally, it has been assumed to act in a passive way in protecting the culm and leaves that it encloses from the entry of water, dust and harmful spores. However, ultrastructural and cytochemical studies of the membranous ligules of several taxa, particularly Lolium species, have challenged that rather simplistic view and suggest that these ligules play a more active role in the life of the grass plant as a secretory tissue. This review summarizes the evidence for the latter notion, assesses the validity of both the passive and active hypotheses of membranous ligule function and notes similarities between membranous grass ligules, root caps and lycopsid ligules.