Plants can also “hibernate”. The discovery comes from a team of researchers from the University of Pisa who have just published a scientific article in the international journal PlosOne in which the extraordinary capacity of a herbaceous plant, Festuca arundinacea L., to survive in extremely unfavourable environmental conditions for long periods is noted.
“Higher plants are able to survive prolonged periods of dormancy, even many years, in dehydrated conditions in the form of seeds,” explained Lorenzo Guglielminetti from the University of Pisa. “Up till now, however, a perfectly hydrated, herbaceous plant has never been described as being able to resist prolonged conditions of total starvation, in the dark (and therefore unable to produce energy through photosynthesis) and at a very cold temperature (4°C)”.
The study was carried out at the Department of Agricultural, Food and Agro-Environmental Sciences of the University of Pisa by Lorenzo Guglielminetti’s team (Antonio Pompeiano, Claudia Roberta Damiani, Sara Stefanini and Thais Huarancca Reyes) in collaboration with Marco Volterrani and Paolo Vernieri. In particular, the researchers discovered that Festuca, used in the past as a forage crop, and today used extensively for lawns, is able to germinate in the dark at temperatures of around 4°C and to grow, even if at a very slow rate, under these conditions, for around two hundred days. After this, once the reserve substances have terminated, the plant metabolism slows down drastically and growth stops awaiting favourable environmental conditions. The wait may last for several hundred days, at the end of which the plant, if exposed to light and acceptable temperatures (23°C), once again develops the photosynthetic apparatus in a few hours and immediately begins to grow.
“In our study we have described some of the mechanisms which enable the Festuca to survive a long period of stress,” concludes Lorenzo Guglielminetti. “Further studies in this direction will help to better understand the hidden secrets of this species, opening up different applicative fields of enormous interest for a genetic improvement of agricultural crops”.