Changes in non-structural carbohydrates before and during winter are one of the major plant responses to winter stress. However, the observed pattern of changes is variable, not only between grass species but also between different experiments. This study examined the effect of developmental stage on carbohydrate reserves during winter in two grass species differing in winter hardiness. Timothy (Phleum pratense L.) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.), sown early or late in the growing season, were sampled for total non-structural carbohydrates (TNC) in late October (end of main growing season), and then in late January, early March and late April. Quantitative and qualitative patterns of carbohydrate accumulation in crown segments were influenced both by plant genotype and developmental stage of the plants prior to winter. TNC increased from October to March, demonstrating considerable cell activity during winter, and declined to their lowest level in April. Sucrose proved to be the major reserve carbohydrate, followed by fructans. The highest content of TNC was found in the most winter-hardy cultivars, particularly in January and March. Early-sown plants accumulated higher levels of fructans than of sucrose, whereas late-sown plants mainly accumulated sucrose. These differences persisted during the winter. It can be concluded that the pattern of carbohydrate accumulation during winter differed between the two species studied and it was strongly affected by both cultivar and plant-developmental stage.
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