Canadian Forest Service Publications

Thaw effects on cold-hardiness parameters in yellow birch. 2002. Zhu, X.B.; Cox, R.M.; Bourque, C.P-A.; Arp, P.A. Canadian Journal of Botany 80: 390-398.

Year: 2002

Issued by: Atlantic Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 19752

Language: English

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One-year-old, cold-hardened, container-grown yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.) seedlings were exposed to cold treatments after being pretreated with a simulated winter thaw. Freezing injury to roots and shoots was assessed by relative electrolyte leakage and triphenyltetrazolium chloride reduction. Growth characteristics were also determined after 60 days under greenhouse conditions. Relative electrolyte leakage and triphenyltetrazolium chloride reduction measurements showed that roots became increasingly damaged with decreasing cold-treatment temperatures. However, plants pretreated with thaws showed significantly lower stem increment, shoot length, and leaf area in response to the cold temperatures than did the unthawed plants. Variation in these growth parameters was also significantly correlated with both root and shoot freezing injury parameters. Cold hardiness under different thaw pretreatments was assessed using the highest freezing temperature that caused significant injury, referred to as the critical temperature. For seedlings without the thaw pretreatment, shoot and root critical temperatures were estimated as -52.5 and 23.8 C, respectively. Following 12 days of thaw, these temperatures increased to -24.08 C for shoots and -13 C for roots. Twelve days of thaw, or growing degree-day (>4 C) accumulations greater than 66 during a thaw, could sufficiently deharden roots and shoots such that they would be susceptible to freezing damage at ambient temperatures commonly encountered in the Canadian Maritimes. We also observed that root pressure declined significantly with increasing root freezing injury. Sufficient root pressure is required for springtime refilling of xylem embolisms caused by winter cavitation of the vessels in this species. Weak root pressure caused by freezing injury would represent a risk of shoot dieback and tree decline due to the remaining embolisms reducing water flow to the developing foliage. The rapid reduction of shoot cold hardiness may also indicate the threat of late-spring frosts to this species. These induced changes are especially important under climate change scenarios that suggest increases in winter temperatures and changes in seasonality in eastern Canada.