What's a Cataphyll?
Readers may remember a note from Bernhard
in a recent posting as follows:
@ English native speakers/botanists: Is cataphyll the right term in English
for "Huellblatt"? Or does the term only describe covering leafs
over an "underground" bud?
I have had a couple of exchanges with
him and have noticed that no one on the list has bellyed-up ("belly-up"
is an Americanism that means to step up and take responsibility for a thing)
to answer his inquiry. Perhaps it's because finding out what the heck a
cataphyll is in English is not exactly trivial.
The only firm reference I found was
from our own Deni Bown's famous book (page 41 in my edition), where she
is at pains to differentiate between extensions of the basic leaf ("sheaths"
in her example) and complete modified leaves (cataphylls) that shield or
protect internodes. Or some such.
I have reviewed a number of botany books
in my possession and none of them have "cataphyll" 'in the index,
even those that helpfully provide glossaries of technical botanical terms.
I even checked the definitive dictionary
of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). "Cataphyll"
is not an entry in the Second Edition (copyright 2000). But it has an entry
for "Cataphyllary", being an adjective for a noun not listed.
The definition is: "the colorless or brownish scales found on various
parts of plants, esp. underground, regarded as modifications of foliage
leaves". The first reference listed is from 1875. The definition there
is "Scale or 'Cataphyllary -Leaves' are usually produced on underground
shoots . . although they also frequently occur above ground, especially
as an envelope to the winter-buds of woody plants (as in the horse-chestnut,
The OED says the term comes from two
Greek words meaning "degraded" and "leaf".
Bernhard's suggestion of the German
term "Huellblatt", meaning literally a "hull-leaf"
seems to accord with the definition matching the winter-bud idea. Attempts
to find "cataphyll" (or "Huellblatt" for that matter)
in my German-English dictionary and a couple of on-line translation resources
It seems to me that the idea of a tough,
protective "hull-leaf" is not what we generally mean on Aroid-l
by a cataphyll. The soft cataphylls shown by Deni Bown on the Anthurium
do not seem to me to be of this "hull" sort. In Cryptocoryne
(my own specialty, such as it is) what I refer to as cataphylls are even
more prominent and leaf-like. Think of the Anthurium cataphylls being 10%
to 25% or so the size of a normal leaf and fully green (compared with the
idea of them being "colorless or brownish" from the OED). They
are also persistent and do not dry and wither away like you might see on
an Anthurium. Cryptocoryne leaves have distinctive, and often very elongated
petioles (stalks). Cryptocoryne cataphylls do not have petioles. Some Cryptocoryne
do not seem to grow cataphylls, while others, such as C. pontederifolia,
have conspicuous ones.
Anyway, the point of this is to have
one of our list botanists explain what is meant by "cataphyll"
as it relates to aroids. If you also have a translation into German that
would be a bonus.
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