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Privet golden leaves adapt unexpectedly well to light changes


Golden-leaf privet (Ligustrum × vicaryi) is widely used as a horticultural shrub because of its upper golden leaves, but its lower leaves are green. However, the putative mechanisms of its upper golden leaves and the leaf color changes in response to light shifts have not been well studied so far. Here, chlorophylls (Chl), carotenoids, and Chl precursors from both golden and green leaves grown in full sunlight (approximately 1200 μmol photons m−2 s−1 at noon) or low-light conditions (180 μmol m−2 s−1) were determined spectrophotometrically. In addition, their gas exchange parameters and Chl fluorescence were measured in situ. Metabolic flux analysis of chlorophyll intermediates indicated that the conversion of prochlorophyllide to chlorophyllide was significantly blocked in golden leaves when compared with green leaves. Green leaves showed higher photosynthetic capacity in low light than golden leaves, but golden leaves presented unexpectedly stronger photosynthetic capacity and lower reactive oxygen species accumulation under the high-light condition. Furthermore, golden leaves showed a higher level of nonphotochemical quenching (NPQ) after the light-to-dark shift and presented a stronger adaptive ability to a broad range of light environments. Higher NPQ values and less oxidative damage in golden leaves may be correlated with their higher carotenoid levels. The results imply that lower chlorophyll levels and higher carotenoid levels in canopy leaves may help privet plants acclimate better to illumination changes. This study demonstrates the key role of irradiance in generating the two types of Ligustrum × vicaryi leaves and sheds a light on cultivation of other ornamental foliage plants.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31770322) and the Project of Sichuan Province Youth Science and Technology Innovation Team (CN) (20CXTD0062). We would like to thank LetPub ( for providing linguistic assistance during the preparation of this manuscript.

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SY and MY conceived the idea and designed the experiments; MY, BH, LHD, QHH and YY collected the data; CBD, CH, YEC and ZWZ analysed the data; MY and SY wrote of the manuscript. All authors gave final approval for publication.

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Correspondence to Shu Yuan.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Jongyun Kim, Ph.D.

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Yuan, M., Huang, B., Dong, LH. et al. Privet golden leaves adapt unexpectedly well to light changes. Hortic. Environ. Biotechnol. 61, 673–683 (2020).

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  • Chlorophyll metabolism
  • Light shift
  • Ligustrum × vicaryi
  • Nonphotochemical quenching
  • Reactive oxygen species