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  What's a Cataphyll?
From: ted.held at us.henkel.com (ted.held at us.henkel.com) on 2007.11.26 at 10:02:10(16739)
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

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, oak, etc.)".

The OED says the term comes from two Greek words meaning "degraded" and

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
were unsuccessful.

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.


From: mickpascall at hotmail.com (Michael Pascall) on 2007.11.26 at 13:02:16(16740)
Drancontiums produce cataphylls , it is an identifying characteristic for some species .
It was pointed out to me that Dracontium prancei has a large cataphyll protecting the flower . It is usually higher than the base of the flower . It is very short lived and withers away , thus not appearing in Dans photo . You will see a good example in David Scherberichs fantastic photos of Dracontium nivosum , especially the first 2 in the sequence .
Michael Pascall,

From: jonathan.ertelt at vanderbilt.edu (Jonathan Ertelt) on 2007.11.26 at 13:34:55(16741)
D. Swartz. Collegiate Dictionary of Botany. 1971. cataphyll - a
scale-like leaf as found in buds, cotyledons, rhyzomes, etc.; any
rudimentary scale-like leaf which precedes the foliage leaf; the
German Niederblatter, an underleaf; a leaf present at the beginning
of growth.

Hope this helps.


From: ju-bo at msn.com (ju-bo at msn.com) on 2007.11.26 at 13:47:03(16742)
ted.held at us.henkel.com
Sent: Mon 11/26/07 8:43 PM
Reply-to: Discussion of aroids (aroid-l at gizmoworks.com)
To: Discussion of aroids (aroid-l at gizmoworks.com)
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Dear Ted,

I`ll give it my best shot---in "The Genera of Araceae'' By Mayo, Bogner and Boyce, in the Glossary, pg. 310, it says--

"cataphyll--a modified leaf which lacks a blade and in appearance corresponds to a petiole sheath; may be used to describe other leaf types whose techinal names are defined by position rather than form, e.g. prophylls are usually of cataphyl shape in Araceae, see phrophyll."

"prophyll--the first leaf of a branch (or sypodial unit); in Araceae almost always a 2-keeled cataphyll, often confused with cataphyll:-- cataphyll refers to a particular type of morphology (reduced leaf), prophyll refers to the position of the leaf along a branch."

If one reads some of the descriptions of genera, one gets a better idea and understanding of these structures, especially when one views the excellent line illustrations and compares the text to the illustrations. For example when discussing Philodendron, they state--
"LEAVES: Numerous, small to gigantic, prophylls of mature stems caducous, marcescent and decidous or persistent and membranaceous or decomposing to net-fibrous remains."

In Anthurium---"LEAVES: prophylls and cataphylls usually +- persistent, entire (membranaceous) or rotting to a fibrous mass (net-fibrous), sometimes completely disppearing."

I can only HOPE this may assist Bernhard.
I wish I knew German, but Bernhard sometimes visits with Josef Bogner, so I feel certain that Josef can set him straight!

The Best,


From: tindomul1of9 at yahoo.com (Tindomul Er-Murazor) on 2007.11.27 at 06:45:28(16750)
A cataphyll are often membranous scale leaves, sometimes have no chlorophyll, and often protect surrounding vegetative or floral meristems. In monocotyledons such as our Aroids, the first leaf on a shoot (the prophyll) is often represented by a cataphyll and differs greatly in size and morphology to more distal leaves on the that axis.
My reference is Plant Form An illustrated guide to flowering plant morphology by Adrian D. Bell Oxford University Press 1991

I will look for more references if I can.

From: abri1973 at wp.pl (Marek Argent) on 2007.11.27 at 17:32:53(16752)
These are cataphylls: Philodendron hederaceum & Ph. bipinnatifidum


Sorry, currently no English version of the page.

Marek Argent

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