• cavitation;
  • collapse of xylem vessels;
  • drought stress;
  • flow imaging;
  • magnetic resonance (MR) imaging (microscopy);
  • xylem refilling;
  • Zea mays (maize)


  • • 
    Xylem sap under high tension is in a metastable state and tends to cavitate, frequently leading to an interruption of the continuous water columns. Mechanisms of cavitation repair are controversially discussed.
  • • 
    Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging provides a noninvasive, high spatial and temporal resolution approach to monitor xylem cavitation, refilling, and functionality.
  • • 
    Spin density maps of drought-stressed maize taproots were recorded to localize cavitation events and to visualize the refilling processes; c. 2 h after release of the nutrient solution from the homemade MR imaging cuvette that received the root, late metaxylem vessels started to cavitate randomly as identified by a loss of signal intensity. After c. 6 h plants were rewatered, leading to a repair of water columns in five out of eight roots. Sap ascent during refilling, monitored with multislice MR imaging sequences, varied between 0.5 mm min−1 and 3.3 mm min−1. Flow imaging of apparently refilled vessels was performed to test for functional repair. Occasionally, a collapse of xylem vessels under tension was observed; this collapse was reversible upon rewatering.
  • • 
    Refilling was an all-or-none process only observed under low-light conditions. Absence of flow in some of the apparently refilled vessels indicates that functionality was not restored in these particular vessels, despite a recovery of the spin density signal.