, Volume 182, Issue 3, pp 325-338

Comparative measurements of the xylem pressure ofNicotiana plants by means of the pressure bomb and pressure probe

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Determination of the pressure in the water-conducting vessels of intactNicotiana rustica L. plants showed that the pressure probe technique gave less-negative values than the Scholander-bomb method. Even though absolute values of the order of −0.1 MPa could be directly recorded in the xylem by means of the pressure probe, pressures between zero and atmospheric were also frequently found. The data obtained by the pressure probe for excised leaves showed that the Scholander bomb apparently did not read the actual tension in the xylem vessles ofNicotiana plants. The possibility that the pressure probe gave false readings was excluded by several experimental controls. In addition, cavitation and leaks either during the insertion of the microcapillary of the pressure probe, or else during the measurements were easily recognized when they occurred because of the sudden increase of the absolute xylem tension to that of water vapour or to atmospheric, respectively. Tension values of the same order could also be measured by means of the pressure probe in the xylem vessels of pieces of stem cut from leaves and roots under water and clamped at both ends. The magnitude of the absolute tension depended on the osmolarity of the bathing solution which was adjusted by addition of appropriate concentrations of polyethylene glycol. Partial and uniform pressurisation of plant tissues or organs, or of entire plants (by means of the Scholander bomb or of a hyperbaric chamber, respectively) and simultaneous recording of the xylem tension using the pressure probe showed that a 1∶1 response in xylem pressure only occurred under a few circumstances. A 1∶1 response required that the xylem vessels were in direct contact with an external water reservoir and/or that the tissue was (pre-)infiltrated with water. Corresponding pressure-probe measurements in isolated vascular bundles ofPlantago major L. orP. lanceolata L. plants attached to a Hepp-type osmometer indicated that the magnitude of the tension in the xylem vessels was determined by the external osmotic pressure of the reservoir. These and other experiments, as well as analysis of the data using classical thermodynamics, indicated that the turgor and the internal osmotic pressure of the accessory cells along the xylem vessels play an important role in the maintenance of a constant xylem tension. This conclusion is consistent with the cohesion theory. In agreement with the literature (P.E. Weatherley, 1976, Philos. Trans. R. Soc. London Ser. B23, 435–444; 1982, Encyclopedia of plant physiology, vol. 12B, 79-109), it was found that the tension in the xylem of intact plants under normal and elevated ambient pressure (as measured with the pressure probe) under quasi-stationary conditions was independent of the transpiration rate over a large range, indicating that the conductance of the flow path must be flow-dependent.