The taxonomic and evolutionary significance of leaf longevity



The half-lives of leaves of 202 taxa of vascular plants were estimated mostly from the literature and ranged from 1 to 350 wk. The longevity of leaves in the plant groups studied is in the order Pinophyta > Pteridophyta > Liliatae > Magnoliatae. Substantial differences are evident between the superorders of flowering plants proposed by Dahlgren and the subclasses proposed by Cronquist. The mean leaf half-life for families of Magnoliatae was shown to be inversely related to their Advancement Index. Length of life of leaves, therefore, appears to have taxonomic significance, with more primitive vascular plants tending to have longer-lived leaves than the more advanced. The ecological significance of leaf half-life is less clear, except in that annual leaf fall is not necessarily associated with deciduousness. The capacity to shed individual leaves may give the angiosperms a flexibility in environmental response which allows them a competitive advantage over the gymnosperms except in the most stressful habitats.