, Volume 161, Issue 3, pp 449-459,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 08 Jul 2009

Foliar water uptake: a common water acquisition strategy for plants of the redwood forest

Abstract

Evaluations of plant water use in ecosystems around the world reveal a shared capacity by many different species to absorb rain, dew, or fog water directly into their leaves or plant crowns. This mode of water uptake provides an important water subsidy that relieves foliar water stress. Our study provides the first comparative evaluation of foliar uptake capacity among the dominant plant taxa from the coast redwood ecosystem of California where crown-wetting events by summertime fog frequently occur during an otherwise drought-prone season. Previous research demonstrated that the dominant overstory tree species, Sequoia sempervirens, takes up fog water by both its roots (via drip from the crown to the soil) and directly through its leaf surfaces. The present study adds to these early findings and shows that 80% of the dominant species from the redwood forest exhibit this foliar uptake water acquisition strategy. The plants studied include canopy trees, understory ferns, and shrubs. Our results also show that foliar uptake provides direct hydration to leaves, increasing leaf water content by 2–11%. In addition, 60% of redwood forest species investigated demonstrate nocturnal stomatal conductance to water vapor. Such findings indicate that even species unable to absorb water directly into their foliage may still receive indirect benefits from nocturnal leaf wetting through suppressed transpiration. For these species, leaf-wetting events enhance the efficacy of nighttime re-equilibration with available soil water and therefore also increase pre-dawn leaf water potentials.

Communicated by Frederick C. Meinzer.