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Leaf epidermal features of Rhododendron (Ericaceae) from China and their systematic significance

1,2WANG Yu-Guo 2LI Guang-Zhao 1ZHANG Wen-Ju 1YOU Jia 1CHEN Jia-Kuan* 1(Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Biodiversity Science and Ecological Engineering, Institute of Biodiversity Science, Fudan University, Shanghai 200433, China) 2(Guangxi Institute of Botany, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guilin 541006, China)  
Rhododendron is the largest genus within the subfamily Rhododendroideae, which has about 1000 known species in the world and more than 500 species in China. Since the genus was established by Linnaeus, its infrageneric relationships have been well studied by many taxonomists on the basis of morphological characters and molecular data. In 1996, Chamberlain et al. proposed a new system of Rhododendron with eight subgenera, i.e., Azaleastrum, Candidastrum, Hymenanthes, Mumeazalea, Pentanthera, Rhododendron, Therorhodion, and Tsutsusi. In this paper, micromorphological characters of leaf epidermis in 4 varieties, 48 species, 6 subgenera of Rhododendron from China were examined using light microscopy (LM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Leaf epidermal features are described and micromorphological types are distinguished here according to morphological characters such as scale, gland, foliar trichome and stomatal apparatus of leaf epidermis. It is shown that the leaf epidermal cells are usually irregular or polygonal in shape. The patterns of anticlinal walls are straight, arched or undulate. The stomatal apparatuses are anomocytic and are usually found on abaxial, not adaxial, epidermis. The results also show that: (1) the lepidote rhododendron (i.e., subgen. Rhododendron), which has both scales and papillae on leaf epidermis, differs distinctly from the elepidote rhododendron; (2) three types of leaf epidermis are identified in subgen. Hymenanthes (i.e., R. fortunei-type, R. chihsinianum-type and R. simiarum-type), whereas four in subgen. Tsutsusi (i.e., R. mariesii-type, R. simsii-type, R. mariae-type and R. flosculum-type); (3) except for R. westlandii and R. henryi, the species of subgen. Azaleastrum show similar morphological characters, i.e., dense stomatal apparatuses surrounded by ringed or discontinuous striates; (4) R. molle of subgen. Pentanthera differs from the species of other subgenera on morphological characters such as foliar trichomes, dense stomatal apparatuses with asymmetrical outer stomatal rims surrounded by undulate-striates, and no gland; (5) only R. redowskianum is found with distinct T-pieces at the polar region of guard cells in Rhododendron. The results support the conclusion inferred from molecular systematic studies that subgen. Therorhodion is the basal clade of Rhododendron. Finally, the relationships between the closely related species are also discussed on the basis of leaf epidermal features.
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