Water content and bark thickness of Norway spruce (Picea abies) stems: phloem water capacitance and xylem sap flow

Gall Rolf 1, Landolt Werner 1, Schleppi Patrick 1, Michellod Véronique 1, Bucher Jürg B. 1

1 Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland

Tree Physiol. 22 (2002): 613-623

DOI: 10.1093/treephys/22.9.613


To determine the relationship between phloem transport and changes in phloem water content, we measured temporal and spatial variations in water content and sucrose, glucose and fructose concentrations in phloem samples and phloem exudates of 70- and 30-year-old Norway spruce trees (Picea abies (L.) Karst.). Large temporal and spatial variations in phloemwater content (1.4-2.6 mg mgdw-1) and phloem total sugar concentration (31-70 mg gdw-1) paralleled each other (r2 = 0.83, P < 0.0001 for the temporal profile and r2 = 0.96, P < 0.008 for the spatial profile), indicating that phloemwater content depends on the total amount of sugar to be transferred. Changes in phloem water content were unrelated to changes in bark thickness. Maximum changes in phloem water content calculated from dendrometer readings were only 8-11% of the maximum measured changes in phloemwater content, indicating that reversible changes in bark thickness did not reflect changes in internal water relations. We also studied the relationship between xylem sap velocity and changes in bark thickness in 70-year-old trees during summer 1999 and winter 1999-2000. Sap flow occurred sporadically throughout the winter, but there was no relationship between bark shrinkage or swelling and sap velocity. In winter, mean daily xylem sap velocity was significantly correlated with mean daily vapor pressure deficit and air temperature (P < 0.0001, in both cases). Changes in bark thickness corresponded with both short- and long-term changes in relative humidity, in both winter and summer. Under controlled conditions at > 0 °C, changes in relative humidity alone caused changes in thickness of boiled bark samples. Because living bark of Norway spruce trees contains large areas with crushed and dead sieve cell zones - up to 24% of the bark is air-filled space - we suggest that this space can compensate for volume changes in living phloem cells independently of total tissue water content. We conclude that changes in bark thickness are not indicative of changes in either phloem water capacitance or xylem sap flow.

Keywords: carbohydrates, phloem transport, stem radius variation