Clones of Betula pendula Roth, and B. pubescens Ehrh., collected as seed from zinc-contaminated mine tailings, were grown aseptically in a liquid/perlite medium. Three zinc-tolerant and four non-tolerant genotypes were compared with respect to extension growth and zinc uptake over a range of external concentrations of zinc. The effect of increasing zinc concentration on total root length and root cell length was also examined. Extension growth declined rectilinearly as the external zinc concentration increased, but the relationship between uptake and external concentration was not rectilinear. After an initial proportional increase, concentrations of zinc in tissues remained constant over much of the range of external concentrations at which some growth was possible. Fresh weight concentrations of zinc in tolerant and non-tolerant genotypes were similar at similar external concentrations. However, at a characteristic threshold external concentration, control of uptake broke down and plants were inundated with zinc. The decrease in extension growth was found to be due mainly to a progressive inhibition of cell elongation. Zinc tolerance in Betula lies in an ability to maintain proportionally more extension growth at similar internal and external zinc concentrations. Neither a tolerance mechanism involving internal detoxification, nor binding of zinc ions to electronegative sites in the cell walls, are consistent with the results. However, these findings are compatible with a tolerance mechanism involving control of uptake operating at the endodermis.
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