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Keywords:

  • Caricaceae;
  • functional morphology;
  • phloem;
  • structural rigidity;
  • xylem;
  • Young's modulus

Abstract

Carica papaya L. does not contain wood, according to the botanical definition of wood as lignified secondary xylem. Despite its parenchymatous secondary xylem, these plants are able to grow up to 10-m high. This is surprising, as wooden structural elements are the ubiquitous strategy for supporting height growth in plants. Proposed possible alternative principles to explain the compensation for lack of wood in C. papaya are turgor pressure of the parenchyma, lignified phloem fibres in the bark, or a combination of the two. Interestingly, lignified tissue comprises only 5–8% of the entire stem mass. Furthermore, the phloem fibres do not form a compact tube enclosing the xylem, but instead form a mesh tubular structure. To investigate the mechanism of papaya's unusually high mechanical strength, a set of mechanical measurements were undertaken on whole stems and tissue sections of secondary phloem and xylem. The structural Young's modulus of mature stems reached 2.5 GPa. Since this is low compared to woody plants, the flexural rigidity of papaya stem construction may mainly be based on a higher second moment of inertia. Additionally, stem turgor pressure was determined indirectly by immersing specimens in sucrose solutions of different osmolalities, followed by mechanical tests; turgor pressure was between 0.82 and 1.25 MPa, indicating that turgor is essential for flexural rigidity of the entire stem.