What happens when stems are embolized in a centrifuge? Testing the cavitron theory

Physiol Plant. 2010 Dec;140(4):311-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-3054.2010.01402.x.


Vulnerability curves (VCs) measure the ability of vessels to retain metastable water without embolisms that lower the hydraulic conductivity of stems. The fastest method of measuring VCs is the centrifuge technique and the Cochard cavitron is a method that allows measurement of hydraulic conductivity of stems while they are spinning. This paper describes the pattern of embolism that results after spinning the stems of hybrid aspen (Populus tremula×P. tremuloides) and two hybrid cottonwoods (P38P38 P. balsamifera×P. simonii and Northwest, which is a hybrid of P. deltoides×P. balsamifera). It is recognized that the pattern of embolism induced in a centrifuge ought to differ from the pattern during natural dehydration of plants because the profiles of tension vs distance greatly differ under the two modes of inducing stress. The pattern of embolism was visualized by a staining technique and quantified by traditional measurements of percentage loss conductivity (PLC) performed on subsample segments excised from spun stems. We found a pattern of embolism approximating that expected from theory: (1) PLC near the axis of rotation exceeded the average; (2) PLC was quite high near the ends of the stems, even though tension ought to be zero; (3) large vessels cavitated before small vessels; (4) more embolism occurred near the base than near the apex of the stems. However, we could not always scale up from subsample conductivity and PLC to whole-stem conductivity. This pattern of embolism is interpreted in terms of vessel diameter and vessel length.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Centrifugation / instrumentation*
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Models, Biological*
  • Plant Stems / anatomy & histology
  • Plant Stems / physiology*
  • Plant Vascular Bundle / anatomy & histology
  • Plant Vascular Bundle / physiology
  • Populus / anatomy & histology
  • Populus / physiology*
  • Water / physiology


  • Water