The water relations of the root–soil interface


J. B. Passioura, CSIRO, Division of Plant Industry, GPO Box 1600. Canberra 2601, Australia.


The difference in hydrostatic pressure between the xylem of the leaf and the soil depends, for a given transpiration rate, on the series of hydraulic resistances encountered along this pathway. Many studies have shown that the sum of the resistances in the plant and the soil is too small to account for the fall in water pressure between the leaf xylem and the soil, especially when plants are growing in sandy soils, which are prone to dry rapidly. A resistance at the root–soil interface, caused possibly by poor contact between the roots and the soil, has been proposed to account for the discrepancy. We explored the resistance in the pathway from soil to leaf using a technique that allows precise and continuous non-destructive measurement of the hydrostatic pressure in the leaf xylem. When the soil was leached with water, the fall in leaf water status as the soil dried was reasonably well described by a simple physical model without the need to invoke an interfacial resistance. However, when the soil was flushed with a nutrient solution with an osmotic pressure of 70kPa, the hydrostatic pressure in the leaf xylem fell several times faster than that in the soil. We suggest that solutes accumulated either in the root or just outside it, creating large osmotic pressures, which gave the appearance of an interfacial resistance.