• Picea abies;
  • cavitation;
  • conductivity;
  • conifer;
  • embolism;
  • hydraulic efficiency;
  • opposite wood;
  • wood anatomy


Compression wood is formed at the underside of conifer twigs to keep branches at their equilibrium position. It differs from opposite wood anatomically and subsequently in its mechanical and hydraulic properties. The specific hydraulic conductivity (ks) and vulnerability to drought-induced embolism (loss of conductivity versus water potential ψ) in twigs of Norway spruce [Picea abies (L.) Karst.] were studied via cryo-scanning electron microscope observations, dye experiments and a newly developed ‘Micro-Sperry’ apparatus. This new technique enabled conductivity measurements in small xylem areas by insertion of syringe cannulas into twig samples. The hydraulic properties were related to anatomical parameters (tracheid diameter, wall thickness). Compression wood exhibited 79% lower ks than opposite wood corresponding to smaller tracheid diameters. Vulnerability was higher in compression wood despite its narrower tracheids and thicker cell walls. The P50 (ψ at 50% loss of conductivity) was −3.6 MPa in opposite but only −3.2 MPa in compression wood. Low hydraulic efficiency and low hydraulic safety indicate that compression wood has primarily a mechanical function.