A correlated light and electron microscopic study was undertaken of the initiation and development of root nodules of the actinorhizal tree species,Elaeagnus angustifolia L. (Elaeagnaceae).
Two pure culturedFrankia strains were used for inoculation of plants in either standing water culture or axenic tube cultures. Unlike the well known root hair infection of other actinorhizal genera such asAlnus orMyrica the mode of infection ofElaeagnus in all cases was by direct intercellular penetration of the epidermis and apoplastic colonization of the root cortex. Root hairs were not involved in this process and were not observed to be deformed or curled in the presence of the actinomyceteFrankia. In response to the invasion of the root, host cells secreted a darkly staining material into the intercellular spaces. The colonizingFrankia grew through this material probably by enzymatic digestion as suggested by clear dissolution zones around the hyphal strands. A nodule primordium was initiated from the root pericycle, well in advance of the colonizingFrankia. No random division of root cortical cells, indicative of prenodule formation was observed inElaeagnus. As the nodule primordium grew in size it was surrounded by tanninised cells of a protoperiderm. The endophyte easily traversed this protoperiderm, and once inside the nodule primordium cortex ramified within the intercellular spaces at multiple cell junctions. Invasion of the nodule cortical cells occurred when a hyphal branch of the endophyte was initiated and grew through the plant cell wall, again by apparent enzymatic digestion. The plant cell plasmalemma of invaded cells always remained intact and numerous secretory vesicles fused with it to encapsulate the advancingFrankia within a fibrous cell wall-like material. Once within the host cell some endophyte cells began to differentiate into characteristic vesicles which are the presumed site of nitrogen fixation. This study clearly demonstrates that alternative developmental pathways exist for the development of actinorhizal nitrogen-fixing root symbioses.