Mesophyll thickness and sclerophylly among Calotropis procera morphotypes reveal water-saved adaptation to environments.
Calotropis procera (Aiton) Dryand (Apocynaceae) is a native species in tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia. However, due to its fast growing and drought-tolerant, it has become an invasive species when it was introduced into Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean Islands. Currently, C. procera displays a wide distribution in the world. Invasiveness is important, in particular, because many invasive species exert a high reproductive pressure on the invaded communities or are highly productive in their new distributed areas. It has been suggested that a very deep root system and a high capacity to reduce stomatal conductance during water shortage could allow this species to maintain the water status required for a normal function. However, the true mechanism behind the successful distribution of C. procera across wet and dry environments is still unknown. C. procera leaves were collected from 12 natural populations in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, ranging from wet to dry environments during 2014-2015. Many traits of morphology and anatomy from these distinct morphotypes were evaluated. We found that C. procera leaves had a considerable capacity to adjust their morphological, anatomical and physiological traits to different environments. The magnitude of acclimation responses, i.e., plasticity, had been hypothesized to reflect the specialized adaptation of plant species to a particular environment. However, allometric models for leaf area (LA) estimation cannot be grouped as a single model. Leaves are narrower and thicker with low amounts of air spaces inside the leaf parenchyma in wet environments, while they are broader and thinner with a small number of palisade cell layers in dry environments. Based on these, we argue that broader and thinner leaves of C. procera dissipate incident energy at the expense of a higher rate of transpiration to survive in environments in which water is the most limiting factor and to compete in favorable wet environments.