Xylem functioning, dysfunction and repair: a physical perspective and implications for phloem transport

Wilfried Konrad*, Gabriel Katul, Anita Roth-Nebelsick, Kaare Hartvig Jensen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Xylem and phloem are the two main conveyance systems in plants allowing exchanges of water and carbohydrates between roots and leaves. While each system has been studied in isolation for well over a century, the coupling and coordination between them remains the subject of inquiry and active research and frames the scope of the review here. Using a set of balance equations, hazards of bubble formation and their role in shaping xylem pressure and its corollary impact on phloem pressure and sugar transport are featured. The behavior of an isolated and freely floating air bubble within the xylem is first analyzed so as to introduce key principles such as the Helmholtz free energy and its links to embryonic bubble sizes. These principles are extended by considering bubbles filled with water vapor and air arising from air seeding. Using this framework, key results about stability and hazards of bubbles in contact with xylem walls are discussed. A chemical equilibrium between phloem and xylem systems is then introduced to link xylem and osmotic pressures. The consequences of such a link for sugar concentration needed to sustain efficient phloem transport by osmosis in the loading zone is presented. Catastrophic cases where phloem dysfunction occurs are analyzed in terms of xylem function and its vulnerability to cavitation. A link between operating pressures in the soil system bounded by field capacity and wilting points and maintenance of phloem functioning are discussed as conjectures to be tested in the future.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)243-261
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Air seeding
  • Cavitation
  • Embryonic bubbles
  • Osmoregulation
  • Plant hydraulics
  • Sucrose transport

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