Journal Article

Red (anthocyanic) leaf margins do not correspond to increased phenolic content in New Zealand <i>Veronica</i> spp.

Nicole M. Hughes, William K. Smith and Kevin S. Gould

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 105, issue 4, pages 647-654
Published in print April 2010 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online February 2010 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Red (anthocyanic) leaf margins do not correspond to increased phenolic content in New Zealand Veronica spp.

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


Show Summary Details


Background and Aims

Red or purple coloration of leaf margins is common in angiosperms, and is found in approx. 25 % of New Zealand Veronica species. However, the functional significance of margin coloration is unknown. We hypothesized that anthocyanins in leaf margins correspond with increased phenolic content in leaf margins and/or the leaf entire, signalling low palatability or leaf quality to edge-feeding insects.


Five species of Veronica with red leaf margins, and six species without, were examined in a common garden. Phenolic content in leaf margins and interior lamina regions of juvenile and fully expanded leaves was quantified using the Folin–Ciocalteu assay. Proportions of leaf margins eaten and average lengths of continuous bites were used as a proxy for palatability.

Key Results

Phenolic content was consistently higher in leaf margins compared with leaf interiors in all species; however, neither leaf margins nor more interior tissues differed significantly in phenolic content with respects to margin colour. Mean phenolic content was inversely correlated with the mean length of continuous bites, suggesting effective deterrence of grazing. However, there was no difference in herbivore consumption of red and green margins, and the plant species with the longest continuous grazing patterns were both red-margined.


Red margin coloration was not an accurate indicator of total phenolic content in leaf margins or interior lamina tissue in New Zealand Veronica. Red coloration was also ineffective in deterring herbivory on the leaf margin, though studies controlling for variations in leaf structure and biochemistry (e.g. intra-specific studies) are needed before more precise conclusions can be drawn. It is also recommended that future studies focus on the relationship between anthocyanin and specific defence compounds (rather than general phenolic pools), and evaluate possible alternative functions of red margins in leaves (e.g. antioxidants, osmotic adjustment).

Keywords: Anthocyanin; co-evolution; defence indication; herbivory; leaf edge; leaf margin; phenolic content; Veronica; Hebe

Journal Article.  4116 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.