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In a long‐term experiment with maize grown at different humidities, Tanner and Beevers (1990) demonstrated that the amount of water lost by the plants in transpiration (plus guttation) could be reduced by a factor of three without any adverse effect on growth. As a consequence, the authors questioned the importance of the transpiration stream in supplying the shoot with minerals, arguing that there are other causes of mass flow in the xylem (such as Münch counterflow from phloem to xylem, and water consumed by growing sink tissues) that may, in the limit, be capable on their own of providing the shoot with minerals. This hypothesis is discussed here in the light of recent work on xylem water relations. It is shown to involve the incorrect premise that, if transpiration were required for long‐distance ion transport, plants should grow less well at high humidity. Instead, solute flux to the shoot can be demonstrated by experiment to remain constant over a wide range of transpiration rates, since the concentration of solutes in the xylem sap varies inversely with transpiration rate. Independent evidence suggests that the non‐transpirational component of mass flow in the xylem is small and is unlikely to be able to provide the shoot adequately with minerals in the absence of transpiration. A simple corollary of this view is that plant growth should be reduced at very low transpiration rates, a prediction that should be testable at sufficiently high humidities under carefully controlled conditions. 1991 Deutsche Botanische Gesellschaft/German Botanical Society

Original publication




Journal article


Botanica Acta

Publication Date





416 - 421