Some properties of the walls of metaxylem vessels of maize roots, including tests of the wettability of their lumenal wall surfacesd

Margaret McCully*, Martin Canny, Adam Baker, Celia Miller

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    23 Citations (Scopus)


    Background and Aims Since the proposal of the cohesion theory there has been a paradox that the lumenal surface of vessels is rich in hydrophobic lignin, while tension in the rising sap requires adhesion to a hydrophilic surface. This study sought to characterize the strength of that adhesion in maize (Zea mays), the wettability of the vessel surface, and to reconcile this with its histochemical and physical nature. Methods Wettability was assessed by emptying the maize root vessels of sap, perfusing them with either water or oil, and examining the adhesion (as revealed by contact angles) of the two liquids to vessel walls by cryo-scanning electron microscopy. The phobicity of the lumenal surface was also assessed histochemically with hydrophilic and hydrophobic probes. Key Results Pit borders in the lumen-facing vessel wall surface were wetted by both sap/water and oil. The attraction for oil was weaker: water could replace oil but not vice versa. Pit apertures repelled oil and were strongly stained by hydrophilic probes. Pit chambers were probably hydrophilic. Oil never entered the pits. When vessels were emptied and cryo-fixed immediately, pit chambers facing away from the vessels were always sap-filled. Pit chambers facing vessel lumens were either sap- or gas-filled. Sap from adjoining tracheary elements entering empty vessels accumulated on the lumenal surface in hemispherical drops, which spread out with decreasing contact angles to fill the lumen. Conclusions The vessel lumenal surface has a dual nature, namely a mosaic of hydrophilic and hydrophobic patches at the micrometre scale, with hydrophilic predominating. A key role is shown, for the first time, of overarching borders of pits in determining the dual nature of the surface. In gas-filled (embolized) vessels they are hydrophobic. When wetted by sap (vessels refilling or full) they are hydrophilic. A hypothesis is proposed to explain the switch between the two states.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)977-989
    Number of pages13
    JournalAnnals of Botany
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - May 2014


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