Original Articles

A comparative histochemical study of plant polyphenols in southern African grasses

DOI: 10.1080/02566702.1992.9648311
Author(s): Pascale Chesselet, Republic of South Africa, MaureenM. Wolfson, Republic of South Africa, R.P. Ellis, Republic of South Africa


Recent anatomical studies have shown that tannin‐like substances (TLS) occur in the epidermal cells of a number of southern African tropical grasses, and the presence of condensed tannins in grasses has been confirmed by chemical analyses. A number of species from four of the five subfamilies of the Poaceae were compared for their responses to a range of histochemical tests which differ in their specificity for phenolic compounds. These included: ferrous sulphate, acidified vanillin, diazotized sulphanilic acid, Fast Blue‐BB, dimethoxybenzaldehyde and nitrous acid, Safranin and Fast Green. In addition, the radial diffusion test for protein precipitation was used. Comparative histochemical tests indicated that most taxa known to contain TLS showed comparable responses to the tests used here, with variations in intensity and hue of the coloured products formed. These qualitative differences suggest the presence of a number of different compounds including oligomeric procyanidins, oligomeric prodelphinidins, monomeric and/or dimeric flavan‐3‐ols and flavan‐3,4‐diols. The presence flavan‐4‐ols has been confirmed in the andropogonoid grasses by previous workers. Histochemical tests are adequate to identify the presence of condensed tannins and their precursors in plant tissue. However, they do not provide a means to identify those compounds which precipitate protein and function as digestibility‐reducing compounds in plant‐herbivore interactions.

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