Leaf water relationships were studied in four widespread forest tree species ( Ilex opaca Ait., Cornus florida L., Acer rubrum L., and Liriodendron tulipifera L.). The individuals studied all occurred on the same site and were selected to represent a range of growth forms and water relationships in some of the principal tree species of the region. The water relations of the species were analyzed using the concept of the water potential-water content relationship. The pressure-volume method was used to measure this relationship using leaf material sampled from naturally occurring plants in the field. Water potential components (turgor, osmotic, and matric) were obtained by analysis of the pressure-volume curves. Initial osmotic potentials (the value of the osmotic component at full turgidity) were highest (least negative) at the start of the growing season. They decreased (becoming progressively more negative) as the season progressed through a drought period. Following a period of precipitation at the end of the drought period, initial osmotic potentials increased toward the values measured earlier in the season. Seasonal osmotic adjustments were sufficient in all species to allow maintenance of leaf turgor through the season, with one exception: Acer appeared to undergo some midday turgor loss during the height of the July drought period. In addition to environmental influences, tissue stage of development played a role; young Ilex leaves had higher early season initial osmotic potentials than overwintering leaves from the same tree. The seasonal pattern of initial osmotic potential in Liriodendron and the observed pattern of leaf mortality suggested a possible role of osmotic potentials in the resistance of those leaves to drought conditions. The fraction of total leaf water which is available to affect osmotic potentials, called the osmotic water fraction in this study, was greatest in young tissue early in the season and declined as the season progressed. The results of this study showed that the water potential-water content relationship represents a dynamic mechanism by which plant internal water relations may vary in response to a changing external water-availability regime. The measured water relationships confirmed the relative positions of the species along a water-availability gradient, with Cornus at the wettest end and Ilex at the driest end of the gradient. Acer and Liriodendron were intermediate in their water relations. The spread of these species along a water-availability gradient on the same site suggested that coexistence is partially based on differential water use patterns.
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