Holding on or falling off : The attachment mechanism of epiphytic Anthurium obtusum changes with substrate roughness


For vascular epiphytes, secure attachment to their hosts is vital for survival. Yet studies detailing the adhesion mechanism of epiphytes to their substrate are scarce. Examination of the root hair-substrate interface is essential to understand the attachment mechanism of epiphytes to their substrate. This study also investigated how substrate microroughness relates to the root-substrate attachment strength and the underlying mechanism(s).


Seeds of Anthurium obtusum were germinated, and seedlings were transferred onto substrates made of epoxy resin with different defined roughness. After 2 months of growth, roots that adhered to the resin tiles were subjected to anchorage tests, and root hair morphology at different roughness levels was analyzed using light and cryo scanning electron microscopy.


The highest maximum peeling force was recorded on the smooth surface (glass replica, 0 µm). Maximum peeling force was significantly higher on fine roughness (0, 0.3, 12 µm) than on coarse (162 µm). Root hair morphology varied according to the roughness of the substrate. On smoother surfaces, root hairs were flattened to achieve large surface contact with the substrate. Attachment was mainly by adhesion with the presence of a glue-like substance. On coarser surfaces, root hairs were tubular and conformed to spaces between the asperities on the surface. Attachment was mainly via mechanical interlocking of root hairs and substrate.


This study demonstrates for the first time that the attachment mechanism of epiphytes varies depending on substrate microtopography, which is important for understanding epiphyte attachment on natural substrates varying in roughness.


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