Stem anatomy and relative growth rate in seedlings of a wide range of woody plant species and types

P. Castro-Díez*, J.P. Puyravaud, J. H C Cornelissen, P. Villar-Salvador

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Stem traits were analysed in laboratory-grown seedlings of 80 European woody and semiwoody species of known potential relative growth rate (RGR) and of similar ontogenetic phase. The objectives were, firstly, to assess the relation between stem structure and plant growth potential and, secondly, to explore how stem structure varies among species differing in life form and leaf habit. Hydraulic conductance was represented by the mean diameter of the widest xylem conduits (Dmax), and structural strength by the percentage of xylem tissue occupied by cell wall material (CWx) or stem tissue density (SD). Across all species RGR showed a weak positive correlation with Dmax and weak negative ones with CWx and SD, with slow-growers showing great dispersion of stem trait values. In the RGR-Dmax relationship this dispersion disappeared when trees were removed from the analysis. None of the relationships were significant among tree species alone. It was suggested that fast-growers require a xylem with wide conduits (high Dmax) to achieve high hydraulic conductivity, and 'cheaply' constructed stems (low CWx and SD) to maximise allocation to leaves. However, the possession of such traits does not guarantee fast growth, as other factors may constrain RGR elsewhere in the plant. Deciduous seedlings showed higher Dmax and lower CWx than evergreens. Higher Dmax could reflect an innate higher tolerance of conductivity loss by freeze-induced embolism in deciduous plants, which are not burdened by the maintenance of foliage in winter. In contrast, life forms were differentiated most clearly by SD. For instance, shrub seedlings had less dense stem tissues than tree seedlings, possibly because they need less investment in long-term strength and stature.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)57-66
    Number of pages10
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 1998


    • Leaf habit
    • Life forms
    • RGR
    • Stem anatomy
    • Woody plants


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