Xanthophyll cycle pigment and antioxidant profiles of winter-red (anthocyanic) and winter-green (acyanic) angiosperm evergreen species

Nicole M. Hughes, Kent O. Burkey, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, William K. Smith

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51 Scopus citations


Leaves of many angiosperm evergreen species change colour from green to red during winter, corresponding with the synthesis of anthocyanin pigments. The ecophysiological function of winter colour change (if any), and why it occurs in some species and not others, are not yet understood. It was hypothesized that anthocyanins play a compensatory photoprotective role in species with limited capacity for energy dissipation. Seasonal xanthophyll pigment content, chlorophyll fluorescence, leaf nitrogen, and low molecular weight antioxidants (LMWA) of five winter-red and five winter-green angiosperm evergreen species were compared. Our results showed no difference in seasonal xanthophyll pigment content (V+A+Z g-1 leaf dry mass) or LMWA between winter-red and winter-green species, indicating red-leafed species are not deficient in their capacity for non-photochemical energy dissipation via these mechanisms. Winter-red and winter-green species also did not differ in percentage leaf nitrogen, corroborating previous studies showing no difference in seasonal photosynthesis under saturating irradiance. Consistent with a photoprotective function of anthocyanin, winter-red species had significantly lower xanthophyll content per unit chlorophyll and less sustained photoinhibition than winter-green species (i.e. higher pre-dawn Fv/Fm and a lower proportion of de-epoxidized xanthophylls retained overnight). Red-leafed species also maintained a higher maximum quantum yield efficiency of PSII at midday (F'v/F'm) during winter, and showed characteristics of shade acclimation (positive correlation between anthocyanin and chlorophyll content, and negative correlation with chlorophyll a/b). These results suggest that the capacity for photon energy dissipation (photochemical and non-photochemical) is not limited in red-leafed species, and that anthocyanins more likely function as an alternative photoprotective strategy to increased VAZ/Chl during winter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1895-1905
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of experimental botany
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank L Renee Tucker of the USDA–ARS Plant Science Research Unit and Kari Kohler at the University of Minnesota for technical assistance with laboratory analyses. This work was supported by the Vecellio Fund at Wake Forest University.


  • Anthocyanin
  • antioxidant
  • ascorbate
  • chlorophyll
  • evergreen
  • photoinhibition
  • photoprotection
  • red leaves
  • winter
  • xanthophyll


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