Plant and Soil

, Volume 111, Issue 2, pp 159–170 | Cite as

Pathways and processes of water and nutrient movement in roots

  • M. E. McCully
  • M. J. Canny


Recent work in our laboratory provides evidence for a revised view of the functioning of roots of maize, and probably of all the grasses. The development of coherent soil sheaths on the distal 30-cm of these roots, and the loss of the sheaths further back, led us to investigate the differences in surface structure, anatomy, carbon exudation and microflora of the sheathed and bare zones. The significant differences are summarized. But the fact which underlies all these differences is the maturation of the late metaxylem (LMX). In the sheathed zones the LMX elements are still alive and non-conducting; only the early metaxylem (EMX) and protoxylem are open. In the bare zones they are open vessels. This leads directly to the dryness of bare zones and the wetness of sheathed zones, and indirectly to the other differences noted. Branch root junctions are shown to be structures of great significance. Besides connecting the branches to the axile systems, they serve also to connect the EMX and LMX vessels, and contain a tracheid barrier which prevents air embolisms entering the main vessels. These discoveries force us to revise the traditional view of water uptake by the root hair zone, and to suggest that much water must also enter bare roots, possibly via the laterals. There is some published evidence for this. The living LMX elements of the sheathed zone accumulate large concentrations of potassium which must joint the transpiration water at the transition to the bare zone. Calculations suggest that this may be only a tenth of the requirement of a mature plant, and that the balance may enter the bare zones with the transpiration water.

Key words

air embolism branch root vascular connections hydraulic conductance nutrient uptake rhizosphere root surface xylem maturation 



early metaxylem


late metaxylem


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. E. McCully
    • 1
  • M. J. Canny
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada

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