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Young grapevines exhibit interspecific differences in hydraulic response to freeze stress but not in recovery

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Main conclusions

This study demonstrated that freeze-induced hydraulic failure varies between two Vitis species that have different xylem vessel frequency and grouping. However, seasonal recovery of young grapevines was similar between the species.


Sub-freezing temperatures after budburst represent a major threat for the cultivation of fruit crops in temperate regions. Freeze stress might disrupt xylem hydraulic functionality and plant growth; however, it is unclear if hydraulic traits influence the ability of woody plants to cope with freeze stress. We investigated if a grapevine species (Vitis hybrid) with earlier budburst had anatomical traits that cause higher freeze-induced hydraulic failure but also confer a greater ability for seasonal recovery compared to a Vitis vinifera species. Two-year-old Vitis hybrid and vinifera grapevines were container-grown outdoors, assigned to either a control (n = 40) or a freeze-stressed (n = 40) treatment and exposed to a controlled-temperature (− 4 °C) freeze stress shortly after budburst. We found that the Vitis hybrid had greater stem-specific hydraulic conductivity (Ks) and was more vulnerable to freeze-induced embolism compared to the V. vinifera species, which exhibited a less efficient but safer water transport strategy. Seventy-two hours after the freeze stress, Ks of freeze-stressed V. vinifera was 77.8% higher than that of the control, indicating hydraulic recovery. While the two species did not differ in xylem vessel diameter, Vitis hybrid exhibited higher vessel frequency and percentage of vessel grouping, which could explain its higher Ks and greater freeze-induced Ks loss compared to the V. vinifera vines. While the two species varied in the short-term hydraulic response, they exhibited similar and full hydraulic and vegetative recovery by midseason, including bud freeze tolerance during the following fall and mid-winter.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2: a, b
Fig. 3
Fig. 4



Control vines


Freeze-stressed vines

Kp :

Plant hydraulic conductance

Ks :

Stem-specific hydraulic conductivity


Vessel diameter


Vessel frequency


Water use efficiency


Net assimilation rate


Transpiration rate


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This study was funded through The Pennsylvania State University College of Agriculture Student Competitive Grants Program, by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Federal Appropriations under Project PEN0 4628 and Accession number 101,413, and by the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing and Research Board. The authors thank Selene Burgio and Marine Galanopoulo for assistance in conducting this research, Annika Huber and Jingjing Yin for assistance with hydraulic methods and measurements, and J.C. Moser and Donald Smith for technical support.

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Correspondence to Michela Centinari.

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Smith, M.S., Centinari, M. Young grapevines exhibit interspecific differences in hydraulic response to freeze stress but not in recovery. Planta 250, 495–505 (2019).

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  • Embolism
  • Hydraulic conductivity
  • Plant growth rate
  • Spring freeze
  • Vitis sp.
  • Water relations
  • Whole plant conductance
  • Xylem anatomy