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  [Aroid-l] What's a Cataphyll?
From: ted.held at us.henkel.com (ted.held at us.henkel.com) on 2007.11.26 at 18:02:10(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.


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