Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 7, Issue 6, pp 981–1010 | Cite as

Seasonal and intraplant variation of cardenolide content in the California milkweed,Asclepias eriocarpa, and implications for plant defense

  • C. J. Nelson
  • J. N. Seiber
  • L. P. Brower
Article

Abstract

Root, stem, leaf, and latex samples ofAsclepias eriocarpa collected from three plots in one population at 12 monthly intervals were assayed for total cardenolide content by spectroassay and for individual cardenolides by thin-layer chromatography. From May to September mean milligram equivalents of digitoxin per gram of dried plant were: latices, 56.8 ≫ stems, 6.12 > leaves, 4.0 > roots, 2.5. With the exception of the roots, significant changes in gross cardenolide content occurred for each sample type with time of collection during the growing season, whereas variation within this population was found to be small. Labriformin, a nitrogen-containing cardenolide of low polarity, predominated in the latices. Leaf samples contained labriformin, labriformidin, desglucosyrioside, and other unidentified cardenolides. In addition to most of the same cardenolides as the leaves, the stems also contained uzarigenin. The roots contained desglucosyrioside and several polar cardenolides. The results are compared with those for other cardenolide-containing plants, and discussed in relation to anti-herbivore defense based on plant cardenolide content. Arguments are advanced for a central role of the latex in cardenolide storage and deployment which maximizes the defensive qualities of the cardenolides while preventing toxicity to the plant.

Key words

Asclepias eriocarpa Asclepiadaceae milkweed cardenolides chemical defense chemical ecology labriformin labriformidin desglucosyrioside uzarigenin variation season plant part defense root stem leaf latex 

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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. J. Nelson
    • 1
  • J. N. Seiber
    • 1
  • L. P. Brower
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ToxicologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavis
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyUniversity of FloridaGainesville

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