The rheology of a growing leaf: stress-induced changes in the mechanical properties of leaves

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We study in situ the mechanics and growth of a leaf. Young Nicotiana tabacum leaves respond to applied mechanical stress by altering both their mechanical properties and the characteristics of their growth. We observed two opposite behaviours, each with its own typical magnitude and timescale. On timescales of the order of minutes, the leaf deforms in response to applied tensile stress. During this phase we found a high correlation between the applied stress field and the local strain field throughout the leaf surface. For times over 12 hours the mechanical properties of the leaf become anisotropic, making it more resilient to deformation and restoring a nearly isotropic growth field despite the highly anisotropic load. These observations suggest that remodelling of the tissue allows the leaf to respond to mechanical perturbations by changing its properties. We discuss the relevance of the observed behaviour to the growth regulation that leads to proper leaf shape during growth.

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