New approaches to underground systems in Brazilian Smilax species (Smilacaceae). Scientific studies show that the watery extract of the thickened underground stem and its adventitious roots of the genus Smilax can act as a therapeutic agent in immunoinflammatory disorders, such as rheumatic arthritis. Brazilians have used this genus of plants in folk medicine, however it is very hard to identify these species, since the morphology of the underground systems is very similar in this group. For better identification of those systems, we studied six species of Smilax L. (S. brasiliensis, S. campestris, S. cissoides, S. goyazana, S. oblongifolia and S. rufescens), collected in different regions of Brazil with different physiognomies and soil characteristics. The main purpose is to describe the morpho-anatomy of the underground systems and to analyze if their structure depends on environmental conditions. The underground stem (rhizophore) is of brown color and it is knotty, massive, slender (S. rufescens) or tuberous (S. brasiliensis, S. campestris, S. cissoides, S. goyazana and S. oblongifolia). The tuberization is a result of primary thickened meristem (PTM) activity. The color and thickness of the adventitious roots change during development because the epidermis and outer cortex are disposed of, so the inner cortex becomes the new covering tissue with lignified and dark color cells. There are differences in starch grain shapes in mature roots. The chemical attributes of the soil are very similar in all studied environments and, even when soil characteristics varied, all the species' underground system was distributed close to the soil surface (10 to 15 cm deep). The species exhibited clonal growth hence their underground system functions as storage structures and the axillary buds can sprout into new stems. Only Smilax rufescens, collected in sandy soil of Restinga, has vegetative dispersal due to the runners.
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Vol. 137 • No. 2