Canadian Forest Service Publications

Effects of simulated thaw on xylem cavitation, residual embolism, spring dieback and shoot growth in yellow birch. 2003. Cox, R.M.; Zhu, X.B. Tree Physiology 23: 615-624.

Year: 2003

Issued by: Atlantic Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 22801

Language: English

Availability: Order paper copy (free)

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Yellow birch seedlings (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.) that had lost more than 90% of their stem hydraulic conductivity during ambient winter temperatures were exposed to 0 and 20 days of a simulated winter thaw followed by a 48-h freezing treatment at 0, -5, -10, -20 and -30 C. After measuring freezing injury to shoots and roots, the seedlings were placed in a greenhouse where recovery of xylem conductivity and new growth were measured. Shoot xylem cavitation was measured as percent loss of hydraulic conductivity. Shoot freezing injury was assessed by electrolyte leakage (EL) and root freezing injury was assessed by EL and triphenyl tetrazolium chloride reduction. Seedlings pretreated with thaw had higher stem water contents and suffered more freezing damage to roots and shoot (at -20 and -30 C, respectively) than unthawed seedlings. After 3 weeks in a greenhouse, seedlings from the 0, -5 and -10 C freezing treatments showed complete recovery of xylem conductivity, with substantially increased stem water contents. Poor recovery of hydraulic conductivity was observed only in seedlings that were subjected to freezing treatments at -20 and -30 C, regardless of thaw treatment. Of these embolized seedlings, however, only those not previously thawed showed recovery of hydraulic conductivity or regained stem water content after 9 weeks in the greenhouse. Shoot dieback, bud burst and length of new shoots were significantly related to the extent of stem xylem cavitation and freezing injury. We conclude that (1) the simulated winter thaw predisposed yellow birch seedlings to freezing damage in shoots and roots by dehardening tissues and increasing their water content; (2) root freezing damage in turn affected the seedlings' ability to refill embolized stem xylem, resulting in considerable residual xylem embolism after spring refilling; (3) further recovery of stem xylem conductivity was attributable to growth of new vessels; (4) and the permanent residual embolism, together with root and shoot freezing injury, caused increased dieback, bud mortality and reduced growth of new shoots.