Abstract. The potential role of stomatal closure in the control of xylem embolism is investigated by means of a simple model of hydraulic flow in plants. Maintenance of a maximally efficient conducting system requires the stomata to close in an appropriate fashion as evaporative demand increases in order to prevent shoot water potentials falling below the threshold value at which cavitations occur. The model showed that the optimal stomatal behaviour required depends on soil water availability. Further analysis of the model demonstrated that there could be certain circumstances where loss of a proportion of the conducting tissue by embolisms can, perhaps surprisingly, be beneficial in terms of maximizing stomatal aperture and hence short-term productivity. The results are discussed in relation to the signals controlling stomatal aperture, and it is shown that (1) optimal control cannot be obtained using information on leaf water potential alone, and (2) information relating to soil water potential is a necessary requirement for optimal control.