Ornamental foliage plants used for interior decoration are able to grow under an indoor environment because of a native adaptation to conditions of low light. During the cultivation of these plants, a reduction of light availability is imposed to improve the acclimatization to the final destination use and to modify the ornamental value of the plants (Chen et al., 2005a).
Previous studies on the response of ornamental plants to low light conditions showed important modifications of the following morphophysiological parameters: variation in the biomass partitioning between shoots and roots (Veneklaas and Poorter, 1998); changes in the photosynthetic response (Fails et al., 1982b; Miralles et al., 2011) through a modification of the daily photosynthetic response curves (Lambers et al., 1998); and changes of the leaf area per unit of dry weight through modifications in the foliar anatomy (Fails et al., 1982a; Vats et al., 2002). A frequent variation that results from low light availability is thinner leaves with a greater leaf area (Niinemets, 2010) and a dark green color as a result of the increased chlorophyll content (Chen et al., 2005b; Fails et al., 1982a). Sawwan and Ghunem (1999) found that Schefflera arboricola increased the photosynthetic surface with a low light level, and this result was related to a better performance of the plants in a simulated interior environment. Moreover, plants may modify their canopy architecture, thus adjusting the capacity to intercept light (Knapp and Smith, 1997; Valladares and Pearcy, 2000).
Certain plant modifications resulting from the adaptation to low light conditions could influence the appearance of the plant and therefore the quality attributes. Indeed, Dijkshoorn-Dekker (2002) and Heuvelink et al. (2004) proposed to use the width, shape, or density of the plant to define the visual quality of the product. Miralles et al. (2011) found that Rhamnus alaternus plants grown under low light conditions showed a less compact canopy with longer internodes than unshaded plants.
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina L.) is one of the most popular ornamental foliage plants, and it is indigenous to the tropical and subtropical regions of South Asia. As a result of its ability to adapt to low light conditions, F. benjamina is largely used for decorating indoor environments, and numerous studies have been conducted examining the effect of low light on this species (Conover and Poole, 1990; Kubatsch et al., 2005; Sarracino et al., 1992). However, the morphophysiological modifications resulting from the light availability during the production period have mainly been considered to evaluate the potential indoor acclimatization of the plants (Fails et al., 1982b; Mortensen, 1992b; Sarracino et al., 1992). Thus, the influence of these plant modifications on the qualitative evaluation of weeping fig was underinvestigated.
Although certain plant modifications resulting from low light during cultivation could improve the quality characteristics (e.g., a large surface area and dark green color of the leaves) and acclimatization to low light environments, such shading conditions limit the daily production of matter (Cannell et al., 1987), and thus the production period is extended (Veneklaas et al., 2002; Yeh and Wang, 2000). Previous experiments on the effects of light availability on weeping fig showed a significant reduction in plant growth at diminished light levels; however, these results are often not comparable owing to the different climatic conditions during the experiment (Fails et al., 1982a; Sarracino et al., 1992; Scuderi et al., 2008).
Within the context of these considerations, an evaluation of the potential interaction effects of shading with the climate is important because the widespread cultivation cycle of this ornamental foliage plant in the Mediterranean region is approximately six months with different thermoradiative growth conditions being intercepted during the year. Therefore, the aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of the shading conditions on the growth and morphological, anatomical, and physiological characteristics related to the quality of weeping fig grown during two growth periods characterized by different climatic conditions.
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