Leaf wettability, indicating the affinity for water on leaf surfaces, is a common phenomenon for plants in a wide variety of habitats. The contact angle (θ) of water on leaves measured at the gas, solid and liquid interface is an index of surface wettability. Leaves are termed as “super-hydrophilic” if θ < 40°, “highly wettable” if θ < 90°, and “wettable” if θ < 110°. If θ > 110°, the leaves are classified as being non-wettable, while θ > 130° for highly non-wettable and θ > 150° for super-hydrophobic. Both internal and external factors can influence leaf wettability. The chemical composition and structure of leaf surfaces are internal causes, but the external environment can also influence wettability by affecting the structure and composition of the surface. The main internal factors that affecting leaf wettability include the content and microstructure of the epidermal wax, the number, size and pattern of trichomes, stomatal density, the shape of epidermal cells, and leaf water status. The leaf contact angles increased with the increasing of leaf wax content. However, studies have shown that the contact angles were more dependent on the complexity of wax structure than on the absolute amount. For trichomes, there are three types of interaction between trichomes and water droplets, including (1) low trichomes density: no apparent influence of trichomes on the location of surface moisture, droplet formation and retention ; (2) medium trichomes density: trichomes appear to circle surface moisture into patches; (3) high trichomes density: trichomes appear to hold water droplets above the trichomes. In some cases, a higher stomatal density was accompanied with a higher contact angles. While, it was also observed that there was no significant correlation between contact angle and stomatal density for some species. For the effects of epidermal cells on leaf wettability, it was generally considered that the combination of a dense layer of surface wax and the convex epidermal cells was what created a hydrophobic leaf surface. However, the influence of leaf water content on contact angle of water droplets on different leaf surfaces was complex, e.g., contact angles increased with decreasing of leaf water content, contact angle remained to be constant with different leaf water content.
Part of the book: Wetting and Wettability