Gentian is an important ornamental flower in Japan. The corolla of the majority of cultivated Japanese gentians have green spots, which are rarely encountered in flowers of other angiosperms. Little information is available on the functional traits of the green spots. In this study, we characterized the green spots in the Japanese gentian corolla using a number of microscopic techniques. Opto-digital microscopy revealed that a single visible green spot is composed of approximately 100 epidermal cells. The epidermal cells of a green spot formed a dome-like structure and the cell lumen contained many green structures that were granular and approximately 5 μm in diameter. The green structures emitted red autofluorescence when irradiated with 488 nm excitation light. Transmission electron microscopy revealed that the green structures contained typical thylakoids and grana, thus indicating they are chloroplasts. No grana were observed and the thylakoids had collapsed in the plastids of epidermal cells surrounding green spots. To estimate the rate of photosynthetic electron transfer of the green spots, we measured chlorophyll fluorescence using the MICROSCOPY version of an Imaging-PAM (pulse-amplitude-modulated) fluorometer. Under actinic light of 449 μmol m-2 s-1, substantial electron flow through photosystem II was observed. Observation of green spot formation during corolla development revealed that immature green spots formed at an early bud stage and developed to maturity associated with chloroplast degradation in the surrounding epidermal cells. These results confirmed that the Japanese gentian corolla contains functional chloroplasts in restricted areas of epidermal cells and indicated that a sophisticated program for differential regulation of chloroplast formation and degradation is operative in the epidermis.
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