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Red-stemmed plants are extremely common, yet the functions of cauline anthocyanins are largely unknown. The possibility that photoabatement by anthocyanins in the periderm reduces the propensity for photoinhibition in cortical chlorenchyma was tested for Cornus stolonifera. Anthocyanins were induced in green stems exposed to full sunlight. PSII quantum yields (ФPSII) and photochemical quenching coefficients were depressed less in red than in green stems, both under a light ramp and after prolonged exposures to saturating white light. These differences were primarily attributable to the attenuation of PAR, especially green/yellow light, by anthocyanins. However, the red internodes also had less chlorophyll and higher carotenoid:chlorophyll ratios than the green, and when the anthocyanic periderm was removed, small differences in the ФPSII of the underlying chlorenchyma were retained. Thus, light screening by cauline anthocyanins is important, but is only part of a set of protective acclimations to high irradiance. Hourly measurements of ФPSII on established trees under natural daylight indicated a possible advantage of red versus green stems under sub-saturating diffuse, but not direct sunlight. To judge the wider applicability of the hypothesis, responses to high light were compared for red and green stems across five further unrelated species. There was a strong, linear, interspecific correlation between photoprotective advantage and anthocyanin concentration differences among red and green internodes. The photoprotective effect appears to be a widespread phenomenon.