Long distance transport in plants occurs in sieve tubes of the phloem. The pressure flow hypothesis introduced by Ernst Münch in 1930 describes a mechanism of osmotically generated pressure differentials that are supposed to drive the movement of sugars and other solutes in the phloem, but this hypothesis has long faced major challenges. The key issue is whether the conductance of sieve tubes, including sieve plate pores, is sufficient to allow pressure flow. We show that with increasing distance between source and sink, sieve tube conductivity and turgor increases dramatically inIpomoea nil. Our results provide strong support for the Münch hypothesis, while providing new tools for the investigation of one of the least understood plant tissues.
Protoxylem plays an important role in the hydraulic function of vascular systems of both herbaceous and woody plants, but relatively little is known about the processes underlying the maintenance of protoxylem function in long-lived tissues. In this study, embolism repair was investigated in relation to xylem structure in two cushion plant species, Azorella macquariensis and Colobanthus muscoides, in which vascular water transport depends on protoxylem. Their protoxylem vessels consisted of a primary wall with helical thickenings that effectively formed a pit channel, with the primary wall being the pit channel membrane. Stem protoxylem was organized such that the pit channel membranes connected vessels with paratracheal parenchyma or other protoxylem vessels and were not exposed directly to air spaces. Embolism was experimentally induced in excised vascular tissue and detached shoots by exposing them briefly to air. When water was resupplied, embolized vessels refilled within tens of seconds (excised tissue) to a few minutes (detached shoots) with water sourced from either adjacent parenchyma or water-filled vessels. Refilling occurred in two phases: (1) water refilled xylem pit channels, simplifying bubble shape to a rod with two menisci; and (2) the bubble contracted as the resorption front advanced, dissolving air along the way. Physical properties of the protoxylem vessels (namely pit channel membrane porosity, hydrophilic walls, vessel dimensions, and helical thickenings) promoted rapid refilling of embolized conduits independent of root pressure. These results have implications for the maintenance of vascular function in both herbaceous and woody species, because protoxylem plays a major role in the hydraulic systems of leaves, elongating stems, and roots.
PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Reproduction often requires significant investment and can move resources away from growth and maintenance; maintaining a balance between reproduction and growth can involve trade-offs. Extreme functional specialization has separated reproduction and photosynthesis in most seed plants, yet ferns use the laminar surface of their fronds for both reproduction and photosynthesis. This dual function selects for a variety of frond morphologies that range from no specialization (monomorphy) to extreme dimorphy between fertile and sterile fronds (holodimorphy). Here we examined the ecological and physiological consequences of variation in frond dimorphy in ferns, evaluated reproductive trade-offs across a dimorphy gradient, and speculate on factors controlling the occurrence of holodimorphy.
METHODS: Ecophysiological measurements of photosynthetic rate, water potential, hydraulic conductivity, and gross morphological comparisons of frond area and angle were used to evaluate differences between fertile and sterile fronds. We examined three temperate and three tropical fern species that vary in degree of fertile–sterile dimorphy.
KEY RESULTS: Holodimorphic species produced fewer fertile fronds, which had significantly higher respiratory rates than in sterile fronds on the same plant or in any frond produced on monomorphic species; hemidimorphic species were frequently intermediate. We found no differences in vulnerability to cavitation between fertile and sterile fronds. In dimorphic species, fertile fronds had higher (less negative) water potential and lower stipe hydraulic conductivity relative than in sterile fronds.
CONCLUSIONS: Fertile–sterile dimorphy in ferns appears to come at considerable carbon cost in holodimorohic species. It is possible that the relative costs of this reproductive system are offset by increased spore dispersal, yet such trade-offs require further exploration.
The phloem vascular system facilitates transport of energy-rich sugar and signalling molecules in plants, thus permitting long-range communication within the organism and growth of non-photosynthesizing organs such as roots and fruits. The flow is driven by osmotic pressure, generated by differences in sugar concentration between distal parts of the plant. The phloem is an intricate distribution system, and many questions about its regulation and structural diversity remain unanswered. Here, we investigate the phloem structure in the simplest possible geometry: a linear leaf, found, for example, in the needles of conifer trees. We measure the phloem structure in four tree species representing a diverse set of habitats and needle sizes, from 1 (Picea omorika) to 35 cm (Pinus palustris). We show that the phloem shares common traits across these four species and find that the size of its conductive elements obeys a power law. We present a minimal model that accounts for these common traits and takes into account the transport strategy and natural constraints. This minimal model predicts a power law phloem distribution consistent with transport energy minimization, suggesting that energetics are more important than translocation speed at the leaf level.
In leaf tissues, water may move through the symplast or apoplast as a liquid, or through the airspace as vapor, but the dominant path remains in dispute. This is due, in part, to a lack of models that describe these three pathways in terms of experimental variables. We show that, in plant water relations theory, the use of a hydraulic capacity in a manner analogous to a thermal capacity, though it ignores mechanical interactions between cells, is consistent with a special case of the more general continuum mechanical theory of linear poroelasticity. The resulting heat equation form affords a great deal of analytical simplicity at a minimal cost: we estimate an expected error of less than 12%, compared to the full set of equations governing linear poroelastic behavior. We next consider the case for local equilibrium between protoplasts, their cell walls, and adjacent air spaces during isothermal hydration transients to determine how accurately simple volume averaging of material properties (a ‘composite’ model) describes the hydraulic properties of leaf tissue. Based on typical hydraulic parameters for individual cells, we find that a composite description for tissues composed of thin walled cells with air spaces of similar size to the cells, as in photosynthetic tissues, is a reasonable preliminary assumption. We also expect isothermal transport in such cells to be dominated by the aquaporin-mediated cell-to-cell path. In the non- isothermal case, information on the magnitude of the thermal gradients is required to assess the dominant phase of water transport, liquid or vapor.
Plants live dangerously, but gracefully. To remain hydrated, they exploit liquid water in the thermodynamically metastable state of negative pressure, similar to a rope under tension. This tension allows them to pull water out of the soil and up to their leaves. When this liquid rope breaks, owing to cavitation, they catch the ends to keep it from unraveling and then bind it back together. In parallel, they operate a second vascular system for the circulation of metabolites though their tissues, this time with positive pressures and flow that passes from leaf to root. In this article, we review the current state of understanding of water management in plants with an emphasis on the rich coupling of transport phenomena, thermodynamics, and active biological processes. We discuss efforts to replicate plant function in synthetic systems and point to opportunities for physical scientists and engineers to benefit from and contribute to the study of plants.
Cavitation has long been recognized as a key constraint on the structure and functional integrity of the xylem. Yet, recent results call into question how well we understand cavitation in plants. Here, we consider embolism formation in angiosperms at two scales. The first focuses on how air-seeding occurs at the level of pit membranes, raising the question of whether capillary failure is an appropriate physical model. The second addresses methodological uncertainties that affect our ability to infer the formation of embolism and its reversal in plant stems. Overall, our goal is to open up fresh perspectives on the structure-function relationships of xylem.
In leaves, the transpirational flux of water exits the veins as liquid and travels toward the stomata in both the vapor and liquid phases before exiting the leaf as vapor. Yet, whether most of the evaporation occurs from the vascular bundles (perivascular), from the photosynthetic mesophyll cells, or within the vicinity of the stomatal pore (peristomatal) remains in dispute. Here, a one-dimensional model of the competition between liquid and vapor transport is developed from the perspective of nonisothermal coupled heat and water molecule transport in a composite medium of airspace and cells. An analytical solution to the model is found in terms of the energy and transpirational fluxes from the leaf surfaces and the absorbed solar energy load, leading to mathematical expressions for the proportions of evaporation accounted for by the vascular, mesophyll, and epidermal regions. The distribution of evaporation in a given leaf is predicted to be variable, changing with the local environment, and to range from dominantly perivascular to dominantly peristomatal depending on internal leaf architecture, with mesophyll evaporation a subordinate component. Using mature red oak (Quercus rubra) trees, we show that the model can be solved for a specific instance of a transpiring leaf by combining gas-exchange data, anatomical measurements, and hydraulic experiments. We also investigate the effect of radiation load on the control of transpiration, the potential for condensation on the inside of an epidermis, and the impact of vapor transport on the hydraulic efficiency of leaf tissue outside the xylem.
Dietary deficiencies of zinc and iron are a substantial global public health problem. An estimated two billion people suffer these deficiencies, causing a loss of 63 million life-years annually. Most of these people depend on C3 grains and legumes as their primary dietary source of zinc and iron. Here we report that C3 grains and legumes have lower concentrations of zinc and iron when grown under field conditions at the elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration predicted for the middle of this century. C3 crops other than legumes also have lower concentrations of protein, whereas C4 crops seem to be less affected. Differences between cultivars of a single crop suggest that breeding for decreased sensitivity to atmospheric CO2 concentration could partly address these new challenges to global health.
Current models of leaf hydration employ an Ohm's law analogy of the leaf as an ideal capacitor, neglecting the resistance to flow between cells, or treat the leaf as a plane sheet with a source of water at fixed potential filling the mid-plane, neglecting the discrete placement of veins as well as their resistance. We develop a model of leaf hydration that considers the average conductance of the vascular network to a representative areole (region bounded by the vascular network), and represent the volume of tissue within the areole as a poroelastic composite of cells and air spaces. Solutions to the 3D flow problem are found by numerical simulation, and these results are then compared to 1D models with exact solutions for a range of leaf geometries, based on a survey of temperate woody plants. We then show that the hydration times given by these solutions are well approximated by a sum of the ideal capacitor and plane sheet times, representing the time for transport through the vasculature and tissue respectively. We then develop scaling factors relating this approximate solution to the 3D model, and examine the dependence of these scaling factors on leaf geometry. Finally, we apply a similar strategy to reduce the dimensions of the steady state problem, in the context of peristomatal transpiration, and consider the relation of transpirational gradients to equilibrium leaf water potential measurements.