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Keywords:

  • grasstree;
  • leaf production;
  • mediterranean;
  • temperature;
  • water potential;
  • Xanthorrhoea preissii

Abstract  Water stress usually arrests growth of even the most deep-rooted species during summer drought in Mediterranean-type climates. However, scant evidence suggests that grasstrees may represent an unusual exception. We used weather data and plant water potential to investigate the relationship between leaf growth and season in the grasstree, Xanthorrhoea preissii Endl. (Xanthorrhoeaceae). Leaf production in two contrasting habitats revealed continuous annual growth, oscillating between maximum rates (2.5–3.2 leaves/d) in late-spring to autumn, to a minimum rate of 0.5 leaf/d during winter but never stopping. While the rate of leaf production during the fast-growth season was positively correlated with temperature above 17–18°C, leaf elongation commenced substantially earlier in the year (from 12°C). Leaf water potentials cycled annually, with predawn readings commonly measured as zero during winter–spring and as low as −1.26 MPa during summer, but never indicating stress by exceeding the turgor loss point. Leaf death was synchronized with summer drought. The fast (summer) growth period was characterized by rapidly fluctuating leaf production, particularly in banksia woodland, where plant growth reliably responded quickly to >18 mm of rainfall. Within 24 h of 59 mm of simulated rainfall, grasstrees in banksia woodland showed a marked increase in water potential, and leaf production reached 7.5 times the controls, confirming their capacity to respond to temporary spasmodic summer rains. Rainfall was the best climatic variable for predicting woodland grasstree leaf production during summer, whereas leaf production of forest grasstrees was most closely correlated with daylength. This plastic response of grasstrees between seasonal weather extremes is relatively rare among other mediterranean floras, and has implications for a recently proposed technique for ageing grasstrees.