Flooding tolerance of Carex species in relation to field distribution and aerenchyma formation



The flooding tolerance of Carex species was studied in relation to their field distribution and their capacity to form root aerenchyma under controlled conditions. In an alpine meadow, six Carex species were selected which were distributed in a clear zonation correlating with water content of the soil. Carex sempervirens and C. ferruginea were only found on nonflooded soil, the latter species preferring moister conditions. Carex davalliana and C. nigra were both associated with water-saturated soil, whereas C. limosa and C. rostrata preferred partially submerged conditions. Carex davalliana and C. limosa were bound to flooded soils with a relatively high redox potential and horizontally flowing groundwater. Carex rostrata and C. nigra grew in stagnant soil-flooded conditions with low soil redox potentials. The amount of aerenchyma in the roots of all species increased when grown in oxygen-deficient stagnant agar. This increase in root porosity, combined with increased root diameter, presumably improved internal aeration of the roots. Although all species survived experimental soil flooding, partial submergence was lethal to C. sempervirens and, surprisingly, also to the wetland species C. davalliana. Carex ferruginea showed a reduced growth rate during partial submergence. The three other species, all wetland plants, reached highest biomass production under soil-flooded and partially submerged conditions, with slower growth on free-draining soil. It is concluded that aerenchyma is not constitutive in the Carex species under study, and is best developed in Carex species from wetlands. Species with less aerenchyma perform poorly when soil-flooded, but conditions of partial submergence could even affect species with a considerable amount of root aerenchyma.