• Root mucilage;
  • surface tension;
  • viscosity;
  • chemical analysis;
  • rhizosheath formation


In many plants, mucilage permeates the interface between root and soil, yet little is known about its physical properties or its influence on the physical properties of the rhizoasphere. Mucilage was collected from 3–4-d-old, axenically-grown maize (Zea mays L. cv. Freya) and lupin (Lupinus angustifolius L. cv. Merrit) seedlings. Surface tension and viscosity were measured over a range of mucilage hydration, and neutral sugar analyses of the hydrolysed mucilages were obtained by gas chromatography. Surface tension of both maize and lupin mucilage was reduced to ∼ 48 mN m−1 at total solute concentrations > 0.7 mg ml−1, indicating the presence of powerful surfactants. Mucilage viscosity increased with increasing solute concentration and decreasing temperature. At a total solute concentration of 0.7 mg ml−1, the viscosity of maize mucilage at 20 °C was 2.1 mPa s (approx. double that of pure water), increasing to 3.3 mPa s at 5 °C. Both maize and lupin mucilage showed viscoelastic behaviour. The major component of maize mucilage was found to be glucose, but in lupin it was fucose.

The surface tension and viscosity results support the idea that mucilage plays a major role in the maintenance of root-soil contact in drying soils. As surface tension decreases, the ability of the mucilage to wet the surrounding soil particles becomes greater. Also, as viscosity and elasticity increase, the resistance to movement of any soil particles in contact with the mucilage increases, a degree of stabilization of the rhizosphere structure is achieved and hydraulic continuity is maintained. It is unclear whether the surfactant is actively secreted by the root or is present simply as a result of leakage from root cells.