Foliar plasticity in response to ontogeny, location within the plant and environmental changes is widespread among long-lived organisms. To quantify the response to a climate gradient, we compared contrasted
populations of Pinus canariensis grown in five sites inside and outside the natural distribution area of the species. Most needle and growth traits were strongly affected by site. In general, site xericity increased the relative area of the dermal and transfusion tissues and decreased mesophyll and endodermis. Within each site, provenances from less productive locations tended to show longer needles, less relative area of dermal tissues but higher relative area of mesophyll and transfusion tissue than provenances from fertile origins. Although sclerophylly increased with aridity, no genetic differences were found for this trait thus
apparently the ontogenetic delay of some provenances in xeric environments was not related with the formation of tougher needles. Several patterns of phenotypic response to different environments were shown. In general, all traits were plastic but the degree of plasticity was higher in traits related with growth than foliar traits. These results, combined with formerly published research, suggest that highly plastic populations rather than narrowly specialized ones have been selected in this species to cope with the complex interaction of environmental factors in its habitat.