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Hydraulic Conductance and Xylem Structure in Tracheid-Bearing Plants

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To understand water flow in tracheary elements, hydraulic conductances per unit length were measured and then compared with theoretical values calculated from xylem anatomical measurements using the Hagen -Poiseuille relation for nine species of pteridophytes, including Psilotum and eight species of ferns. In ferns the water potential gradients were essentially constant from the root tips to the distal portion of the leaf rachises, although somewhat larger gradients were found from the petiolule onward. Although tracheid number and diameter apparently controlled water flow in xylem, estimates of hydraulic conductance per unit length predicted from tracheid numbers and diameters were generally twice those actually measured from plants under steady-state conditions. A model was developed to account for this discrepancy for Pteris vittata, indicating that pit membrane resistances may contribute 70% of the total resistance to water flow in this fern. This may account for the generally observed deviation of tracheid performance from that predicted for ideal capillaries of uniform diameter.


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