•Background and Aims Epidermal phenolic compounds (mainly flavonoids) constitute a vital screen that protects the leaf from damage by natural ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The effectiveness of epidermal UV-screening depends on leaf anatomy, the content of UV-screening compounds and their spatial uniformity over the leaf area. To investigate in vivo the spatial pattern of the epidermal UV-screen during leaf development, a fluorescence imaging method was developed to map the epidermal UV-absorbance at a microscopic scale. This study was done on oak (Quercus petraea) leaves that were used as a model of woody dicotyledonous leaves.
•Methods The leaf development of 2-year-old trees, grown outdoors, was monitored, at a macroscopic scale, by in vivo measurements of chlorophyll content per unit area and epidermal UV-absorbance using two optical leafclip meters. The distribution of pigments within leaves was assessed in vivo spectroscopically. The microscopic images of UV-induced fluorescence and UV-absorbance acquired in vivo during leaf development were interpreted from spectral characteristics of leaves.
•Key Results At a macroscopic scale, epidermal UV-absorbance was high on the upper leaf side during leaf development, while it increased on the lower leaf side during leaf expansion and reached the adaxial value at maturity. At a microscopic scale, in immature leaves, for both leaf sides, the spatial distribution of epidermal UV-absorbance was heterogeneous, with a pattern depending on the flavonoid content of vacuoles in developing epidermal cells. At maturity, epidermal UV-absorbance was uniform.
•Conclusions The spatial pattern of epidermal UV-screen over the area of oak leaves is related to leaf anatomyduring development. In vivo spectroscopy and fluorescence imaging of the leaf surface showed the distribution ofpigments within the leaf and hence can provide a tool to monitor optically the leaf development in nature.
Key words：Blue-green fluorescence, chlorophyll fluorescence, epidermis, flavonoids, leaf development,microscopic imaging, polyphenols, Quercus petraea.