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Am J Bot. 2009 Feb;96(2):409-19. doi: 10.3732/ajb.0800248.

Morphological variation of intervessel pit membranes and implications to xylem function in angiosperms.

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  • 1Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, TW9 3DS, Surrey, UK.


Pit membranes between xylem vessels have been suggested to have functional adaptive traits because of their influence on hydraulic resistance and vulnerability to embolism in plants. Observations of intervessel pit membranes in 26 hardwood species using electron microscopy showed significant variation in their structure, with a more than 25-fold difference in thickness (70-1892 nm) and observed maximum pore diameter (10-225 nm). In some SEM images, pit membrane porosity was affected by sample preparation, although pores were resolvable in intact pit membranes of many species. A significant relationship (r(2) = 0.7, P = 0.002) was found between pit membrane thickness and maximum pore diameter, indicating that the thinner membranes are usually more porous. In a subset of nine species, maximum pore diameter determined from SEM was correlated with pore diameter calculated from air-seeding thresholds (r(2) = 0.8, P < 0.001). Our data suggest that SEM images of intact pit membranes underestimate the porosity of pit membranes in situ. Pit membrane porosity based on SEM offers a relative estimate of air-seeding thresholds, but absolute pore diameters must be treated with caution. The implications of variation in pit membrane thickness and porosity to plant function are discussed.

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