Universality of phloem transport in seed plants

Kåre Hartvig Jensen, Johannes Liesche, Tomas Bohr, Alexander Schulz

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Since Münch in the 1920s proposed that sugar transport in the phloem vascular system is driven by osmotic pressure gradients, his hypothesis has been strongly supported by evidence from herbaceous angiosperms. Experimental constraints made it difficult to test this proposal in large trees, where the distance between source and sink might prove incompatible with the hypothesis. Recently, the theoretical optimization of the Münch mechanism was shown to lead to surprisingly simple predictions for the dimensions of the phloem sieve elements in relation to that of fast growing angiosperms. These results can be obtained in a very transparent way using a simple coupled resistor model. To test the universality of the Münch mechanism, we compiled anatomical data for 32 angiosperm and 38 gymnosperm trees with heights spanning 0.1–50 m. The species studied showed a remarkable correlation with the scaling predictions. The compiled data allowed calculating stem sieve element conductivity and predicting phloem sap flow velocity. The central finding of this work is that all vascular plants seem to have evolved efficient osmotic pumping units, despite their huge disparity in size and morphology. This contribution extends the physical understanding of phloem transport, and will facilitate detailed comparison between theory and field experiments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1065-1076
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Long-distance transport
  • Münch mechanism
  • Phloem
  • Scaling
  • Sieve elements
  • Sugar
  • Trees


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