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Tree Physiol. 2015 Jul;35(7):706-22. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tpv058. Epub 2015 Jul 9.

Hydraulic functioning of tree stems--fusing ray anatomy, radial transfer and capacitance.

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Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith 2751, NSW, Australia
Department of Forest Sciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 27, FIN-00014, Finland.
School of Geo-Science, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JN, UK ICREA at CREAF, Campus de UAB, Cerdanyola del Valles 08023, Barcelona, Spain.


Not long ago, textbooks on plant physiology divulged the view that phloem and xylem are separate transport systems with exclusive functions. Phloem was flowing downwards providing roots with carbohydrates. Xylem transported water upwards from roots to leaves. This simplified view has changed forever. Today we have a much-refined understanding of the complex transport mechanisms, regulatory functions and surprisingly ingenuous solutions trees have evolved to distribute carbohydrates and water internally to fuel growth and help mediate biotic and abiotic stresses. This review focuses on functional links between tissues of the inner bark region (i.e., more than just phloem) and the xylem, facilitated by radially aligned and interconnected parenchyma cells, called rays. Rays are usually found along the entire vertical axis of tree stems, mediating a number of transport processes. We use a top-down approach to unveil the role of rays in these processes. Due to the central role of rays in facilitating the coupling of inner bark and xylem we dedicate the first section to ray anatomy, pathways and control mechanisms involved in radial transport. In the second section, basic concepts and models for radial movement through rays are introduced and their impacts on water and carbon fluxes at the whole-tree level are discussed. This section is followed by a closer look at the capacitive function of composite tissues in stems where gradual changes in water potential generate a diurnal 'pulse'. We explain how this pulse can be measured and interpreted, and where the limitations of such analyses are. Towards the end of this review, we include a brief description of the role of radial transport during limited availability of water. By elucidating the strong hydraulic link between inner bark and xylem, the traditional view of two separate transport systems dissolves and the idea of one interconnected, yet highly segregated transport network for carbohydrates and water arises.


dendrometer measurements; phloem–xylem exchange; ray parenchyma; tree water transport

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