Cassava’s importance as a food security crop in Sub Saharan Africa will be enhanced by its special traits such as tolerance to drought and high yields under hydrothermal stress. Some of the special traits which include the light reflective and absorptive properties of the leaves that depend on the surface characteristics of the leaves, are variety dependent and may influence the plants’ reaction to light; hence, its photosynthetic capacity. We investigated the differences in the leaf spectral properties in different cassava varieties and related them to leaf biochemical properties using 20 cassava varieties established in a randomized complete block design in Kasese, western Uganda. Time dependent changes in leaf spectral characteristics were studied using Digimizer software and related to changes in sugar and pigment properties. Changes in the amount of reflected light were observed for the three main wavelengths used by plants (blue, green and red) with the blue being the most preferred. Total soluble free sugars exhibited a diurnal pattern from lower values (0.07 mg/g) after the dark period to higher values (0.313 mg/g) as the day progressed and was different from those of translocatable sugars such as sucrose. Chlorophyll a exhibited a curved pattern in all varieties increasing with increase in light intensity from 09:00 h (0.18 ug/g), peaking at 15:00 h (0.22 ug/g) and dropping down in concentration by 18:00 h (0.16 ug/g). Significant differences were observed in cassava varieties for the concentration of chlorophylls and carotenes. The results were obtained at a time of optimal growth conditions (four months after planting) and were used to classify these varieties into three broad groups showing that studies on spectral properties of leaves can still give a lot of insights in selection for stress tolerance under less optimal stress. The significant changes observed in the phenotype especially the foliar portion of the plant with the stay green and early recovering mechanisms of tolerance identified also tarried well with observed spectral differences. The results show that studies on plant spectral properties can be important in making inferences on the plants physiological and growth status.
Key words: Spectral properties, tolerance mechanisms, physiology, reflectance.
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