Schulte, P.J. and J.R. Brooks. 2003. Branch junctions and the flow of water through xylem in Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine stems. J. Exp. Bot. 54(387):1597-1605. WED-03-026
Water flowing through the xylem from the roots to the leaves of most plants must pass through junctions where branches have developed from the main stem. These junctions have been studied as both flow constrictions and components of a hydraulic segmentation mechanism to protect the main axes of the plant. The hydraulic nature of the branch junction also affects the degree to which branches interact and can respond to changes in flow to other branches. The junctions from shoots of two conifer species were studied, with particular emphasis on the coupling between the downstream branches. Flow was observed qualitatively by forcing stain through the junctions and the resulting patterns showed that flow into a branch was confined to just part of the subtending xylem until a considerable distance below the junction. Junctions were studied quantitatively by measuring flow rates in a branch before and after flow was stopped in an adjacent branch and by measuring the hydraulic resistance of the components of the junction. Following flow stoppage in the adjacent branch, flow into the remaining branch increased, but considerably less than predicted based on a simple resistance analogue for the branch junction that assumes the two branches are fully coupled. The branches downstream from a junction, therefore, appear to be limited in their interconnectedness and hence in their ability to interact.