Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 October 2016
The term ‘stay-green’ (SG) is used in studies with varieties showing delayed senescence in the field. However, delayed appearance of visual symptoms of leaf senescence does not guarantee a longer duration of photosynthesis. The question arises whether the variation in photosynthetic capacity between silage maize varieties currently on the Belgian market is large enough to define different SG types. Furthermore, physiological traits were investigated as proxies for photosynthesis, including chlorophyll concentration, nitrogen (N) concentration, SPAD readings and greenness score. Finally, the functionality of the SG trait was determined by studying dry matter (DM) and N partitioning in the plants. To address these questions, eight silage maize varieties were monitored at two sites in Belgium over 2 years (2013–2014). Two plant types were found: hereafter called ‘normal’ and ‘SG’. The SG varieties had higher values for photosynthetic capacity and they coincided with higher values for the proxies. Because a higher photosynthetic capacity did not provoke higher assimilate accumulation in the leaves, the SG trait was characterized as a cosmetic one. The SG trait influenced N dynamics in the plant: lower N translocation from the leaves to the ear resulted in lower ear N concentration and lower ear DM yield. No differences in whole-crop N concentration and whole-crop DM yield were found. As the SG trait mainly provokes shifts in partition of DM and N between vegetative and generative tissues, the energy source also shifts from starch (provided by the ear) to cell wall material (provided by the stover).