Meriel Melendrez

Epidermal leaf morphology changes with height in tallest trees in known universe, Sequoia sempervirens

I am examining the little parts of big creatures: the leaves of California Coastal Redwoods. These trees grow over three hundred feet tall, with roots in the dark moist understory, and crowns out in the dry hot sunshine. The leaves of just one tree are tailored to live in several different micro-climatesat first glance, they do not even look like they came from the same plant! Those in the lower branches are much longer than those higher up, and even the pattern of their pores, or stomata, is different. No has yet fully described this gradient of change. This summer, I will compare leaves from many different heights by peeling off their waxy skin, or cuticle, and photographing the epidermal structures. I will use the photographs to quantitatively describe the extraordinary variation of leaves growing on a single tree.

Message to Sponsor

I really am fascinated by these trees. The SURF grant has given me the opportunity to study them at my leisure. Secure in the knowledge that I can pay my rent, I temporarily quit my job as a waitress and now focus on very carefully stripping the skin off of miniscule leaves using a razor, a pair of needles, and a microscope. I spend the rest of my time swimming, climbing trees, cooking, and drawing. Because of this project, I even have more patience with dreary Bay Area fog. I know that my study organisms are literally soaking it up. Plus, I get a head start on completing an honors thesis for my major.
  • Major: Integrative Biology
  • Mentor: Cindy Looy, Integrative Biology