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Published in: American Journal of Botany, vol.73, no. 3, 1986.


The occurrence of the Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) was studied in four epiphytic species of the Gesneriaceae: two neotropical species, Codonanthe crassifolia and Columnea linearis, and two paleotropical species, Aoschynanthus pulcher and Saintpaulia ionantha. Gas exchange parameters, enzymology, and leaf anatomy, including mesophyll succulence and rel­ ative percent of the mesophyll volume occupied by airspace, were studied for each species. Codonanthe crassifolia was the only species to show nocturnal CO2 uptake and a diurnal organic acid fluctuation. According to these results, Codonanthe crassifolia shows CAM-cycling under well-watered conditions and when subjected to drought, it switches to CAM-idling. Other characteristics, such as leaf anatomy, mesophyll succulence, and PEP carboxylase and NADP malic enzyme activity, indicate attributes of the CAM pathway. All other species tested showed C3 photosynthesis. The most C3-like species is Columnea linearis, according to the criteria tested in this investigation. The other two species show mesophyll succulence and relative percent of the leaf volume occupied by airspace within the CAM range, but no other characters of the CAM pathway. The leaf structure of certain genera of the Gesneriaceae and of the genus Peperomia in the Piperaceae are similar, both having an upper succulent, multiple epidermis, a medium palisade of one or a few cell layers, and a lower, succulent spongy parenchyma not too unlike CAM photosynthetic tissue. We report ecophysiological similarities between these two distantly related families. Thus, the occurrence of CAM-cycling may be more common among epiphytic species than is currently known.