Freeze/thaw-induced embolism depends on nadir temperature: the heterogeneous hydration hypothesis

Plant Cell Environ. 2006 May;29(5):729-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3040.2005.01426.x.


Freeze/thaw-induced embolism was studied in leaves of field-grown snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) subject to frequent morning frosts. Juvenile trees were grown in buried pots, brought to the laboratory at different stages of acclimation and subjected to simulated frost-freezes (at 2 degrees C h(-1)) to nadir temperatures of -3 or -6 degrees C, which snow gums commonly experience. Frost-frozen and subsequently thawed leaves were cryo-fixed to preserve the distribution of water and were then examined by cryo-scanning electron microscopy. No embolisms were found in leaves frozen to -3 degrees C and thawed. In contrast, 34% of vessels were embolized in thawed leaves that had been frozen to -6 degrees C. This difference was seen also in the extent of extracellular ice blocks in the mid-vein expansion zones in leaves frozen to -3 and -6 degrees C, which occupied 3 and 14% of the mid-vein area, respectively. While the proportion of embolism depended on nadir temperature, it was independent of season (and hence of acclimation state). From the observation that increased embolism at lower nadir temperature was related to the freeze-induced redistribution of water, we hypothesize that the dehydration of cell walls and cells caused by the redistribution exerts sufficient tension on xylem water to induce cavitation on thawing.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Eucalyptus / physiology*
  • Eucalyptus / ultrastructure
  • Freezing*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Seasons
  • Water*
  • Xylem / chemistry


  • Water