A survey of vessel dimensions in stems of tropical lianas and other growth forms

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Vessel dimensions (total diameter and length) were determined in tropical and subtropical plants of different growth forms with an emphasis upon lianas (woody vines). The paint infusion and compressed air methods were used on 38 species from 26 genera and 16 families in the most extensive survey of vessel length made to date. Within most stems there was a skewed frequency distribution of vessel lengths and diameter, with many short and narrow vessels and few long and wide ones. The longest vessel found (7.73 m) was in a stem of the liana (woody vine) Pithecoctenium crucigerum. Mean vessel length for 33 species of lianas was 0.38 m, average maximum length was 1.45 m. There was a statistically significant inter-species correlation between maximum vessel length and maximum vessel diameter. Among liana stems and among tree+shrub stems there were statistically significant correlations between stem xylem diameter and vessel dimensions. Lianas with different adaptations for climbing (tendril climbers, twiners, scramblers) were similar in their vessel dimensions except that scramblers tended to have shorter (but not narrower) vessels. Within one genus, Bauhinia, tendril climbing species had greater maximum vessel lengths and diameters than tree and shrub species. The few long and wide vessels of lianas are thought to hydraulically compensate for their narrow stem diameters. The many narrow and short vessels, which are present in the same liana stems, may provide a high resistance auxiliary transport system.