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Structure of the receptacular nectary and circadian metabolism of starch in the ant-guarded plant Ipomoea cairica (Convolvulaceae)


  • E. A. S. Paiva,

    Corresponding author
    1. Departamento de Botânica, Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
    • Correspondence

      E. A. S. Paiva, Departamento de Botânica, Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, 31270-901 – Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil.


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  • L. C. Martins

    1. Departamento de Biologia, Instituto Federal de Educação Ciência e Tecnologia do Sul de Minas Gerais, Inconfidentes, Brazil
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Nectaries occur widely in Convolvulaceae. These structures remain little studied despite their possible importance in plant–animal interactions. In this paper, we sought to describe the structure and ultrastructure of the receptacular nectaries (RNs) of Ipomoea cairica, together with the dynamics of nectar secretion. Samples of floral buds, flowers at anthesis and immature fruits were collected, fixed and processed using routine methods for light, scanning and transmission electron microscopy. Circadian starch dynamics were determined through starch measurements on nectary sections. The secretion samples were subjected to thin layer chromatography. RNs of I. cairica were cryptic, having patches of nectar-secreting trichomes, subglandular parenchyma cells and thick-walled cells delimiting the nectary aperture. The glandular trichomes were peltate type and had typical ultrastructural features related to nectar secretion. The nectar is composed of sucrose, fructose and glucose. Nectar secretion was observed in young floral buds and continued as the flower developed, lasting until the fruit matured. The starch content of the subglandular tissue showed circadian variation, increasing during the day and decreasing at night. The plastids were distinct in different portions of the nectary. The continuous day–night secretory pattern of the RNs of I. cairica is associated with pre-nectar source circadian changes in which the starch acts as a buffer, ensuring uninterrupted nectar secretion. This circadian variation may be present in other extrafloral nectaries and be responsible for full daytime secretion. We conclude that sampling time is relevant in ultrastructural studies of dynamic extranuptial nectaries that undergo various changes throughout the day.