The vulnerability to freezing-induced xylem cavitation of Larrea tridentata (Zygophyllaceae) in the Chihuahuan desert

Jordi Martínez-Vilalta, William T. Pockman

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The temperature dependence of freezing-induced xylem cavitation was studied in a Chihuahuan desert population of Larrea tridentata (Zygophyllaceae). Field measurements of wood temperature and xylem embolism were combined with anatomical studies and laboratory measurements of embolism in stem and root samples frozen under controlled conditions. Our laboratory experiments corroborated the previously observed relationship between minimum freezing temperature and embolism. The area of the low-temperature exotherms produced during the freezing treatments was correlated with the resulting embolism, suggesting that the freezing of water inside parenchyma cells is associated with the occurrence of xylem embolism. In the laboratory experiments, embolism in stems increased only at temperatures below -14°C. Although this meant that the studied population was more resistant to freezing-induced xylem embolism than a previously studied population from the Sonoran desert, the impact of freezing was nevertheless greater because of much lower environmental temperatures. This result suggests that dieback associated with periodic extreme freezes may contribute to limiting the present distribution of L. tridentata in central New Mexico. Although laboratory experiments showed that root xylem embolism increased after freezing to less negative minimum temperatures than stems (significant effects at T = -7°C), root embolism in the field was lower than shoot embolism in accordance with measured soil temperatures throughout the study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1916-1924
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2002


  • Central New Mexico
  • Freezing
  • Larrea tridentata
  • Low-temperature exotherm
  • Water transport
  • Xylem embolism
  • Zygophyllaceae


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