• soil drying;
  • ABA;
  • stomata;
  • growth;
  • water relations

Abstract. Maize seedlings (Zea mays L. John Innes F1 hybrid) were grown in a greenhouse in l-m-long tubes of soil. When the plants were well established, water was withheld from half of the tubes. Control plants were watered every day during the 20-d experimental period. The soil drying treatment resulted in a substantial restriction of stomatal conductance and a limitation in shoot growth, even though there was no detectable difference in the water relations of watered and unwatered plants. From day 7 of the soil drying treatment, xylem ABA concentrations (measured using the sap exuded from detopped plants) were substantially increased in unwatered plants compared to values recorded with sap from plants watered every day. Measurements of water potential through the profile of unwatered soil suggest that xylem ABA concentrations reflects the extent of soil drying. Leaf ABA content was a much less sensitive indicator of the effect of soil drying and during the whole of experimental period there was no significant difference between ABA concentration in leaves of well watered and unwatered plants. In a second set of experiments, ABA was fed to part of the roots of potted maize plants to manipulate xylem ABA concentration. These manipulations suggested that the increases in ABA concentration in xylem sap, which resulted from soil drying, were adequate to explain the observed variation in stomatal conductance and might also explain the restriction in leaf growth rate. These results are discussed in the light of recent work which suggests that stomatal responses to soil drying are partly attributable to an as-yet unidentified inhibitor of stomatal opening.