Aromatic plants and their volatile compounds affect seed germination and plant growth, and therefore hold potential for agriculture uses as plant growth regulators and bioherbicides. In the present study 17 major monoterpenes were selected, and their mechanisms of plant toxicity were elucidated using transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana at various growth stages. Microtubulin and the plant cell membrane were identified as the focal targets through which phytotoxicity and herbicidal activity acted. Variability in monoterpene mechanisms was observed. Limonene and ( )-citronellal had strong antimicrotubule efficacy, whereas citral, geraniol, (-)-menthone, ( )-carvone, and (-)-citronellal demonstrated moderate antimicrotubule efficacy. Pulegone, (-)-carvone, carvacrol, nerol, geranic acid, ( )/(-)-citronellol, and citronellic acid lacked antimicrotubule capacity. An enantioselective disruption of microtubule assembly was recorded for ( )/(-)-citronellal and ( )/(-)-carvone. The ( ) enatiomers were more potent than their (-) counterparts. Citral, limonene, carvacrol, and pulegone were also tested for phytotoxicity and herbicidal activity. Pulegone had no detectable effect on microtubules or membranes. Citral disrupted microtubules but did not cause membrane damage. Carvacrol lacked a detectable effect on microtubules but incited membrane leakage, and limonene disrupted microtubules and membrane leakage. Therefore, only limonene was herbicidal at the tested concentrations. In planta quantification of residues revealed that citral was biotransformed into nerol and geraniol, and limonene was converted into carvacrol, which could explain its dual capacity with respect to microtubules and membrane functionality. The results obtained are an important added value to commercial efforts in selecting appropriate aromatic plants to be sources of bioherbicidal compounds for sustainable weed management with a limited potential for herbicide resistance evolution in weed populations.
Nomenclature: Arabidopsis thaliana, citral, limonene, pulegone, carvacrol.