11th Class Biology Means Of Transport In Plants Ascent Of Sap

Ascent Of Sap

Category : 11th Class

'The upward transport of water along with dissolved minerals from roots to the aerial parts of the plant is called Ascent of sap'. It is also called translocation of water. The water with dissolved minerals is called sap.

Path of ascent of sap : It is now well established that the ascent of sap takes place through xylem. In herbaceous plants almost all the tracheary elements participate in the process, but in large woody trees the tracheary elements of only sap wood are functional. Further, it has been proved experimentally that sap moves up the stem through the lumen of xylem vessels and tracheids and not through their walls.

Theories of ascent of sap : The various theories put forward to explain the mechanism of ascent of sap in plants can be placed in following three categories :

(1) Vital force theories

(2) Root pressure theory

(3) Physical force theories

(1) Vital force theories : According to these theories the forces required for ascent of sap are generated in living cells of the plant. These theories are not supported by experimental evidences hence they have been discarded. Some of the important vital force theories are mentioned below :

According to Westermaier (1883), ascent of sap occurs through xylem parenchyma; tracheids, and vessels only act as water reservoirs.

Relay pump theory (Clambering theory) : According to Godlewski (1884) ascent of sap takes place due to rhythmatic change in the osmotic pressure of living cells of xylem parenchyma and medullary rays and are responsible for bringing about a pumping action of water in upward direction. Janse (1887) supported the theory and showed that if lower part of the shoot is killed upper leaves were affected.


(i) Strasburger (1891) and Overton (1911) used poisons (like picric acid) and excessive heat to kill the living cells of the plant. When such twigs were dipped in water, ascent of sap could still occur uninterrupted. This definitely proved that no vital force is involved in ascent of sap.

(ii) Xylem structure does not support the Godlewski's theory. For pumping action living cells should be in between two xylem elements and not on lateral sides as found.

Pulsation theory : Sir J.C. Bose (1923) said that living cells of innermost layer of cortex, just outside the endodermis are in rhythmatic pulsations. Such pulsations are responsible for pumping the water in upward direction. According to Bose, the pulsatory cells pump the water into vessels.

Criticism : Dixon failed to verify the results of Bose. It has been estimated that sap should flow through 230–240 pulsating cells per second to account for normal rate of pulsations. This rate is several times higher as would be possible to the Bose theory (Shull, MacDougal, Benedict).

(2) Root pressure theory : It was proposed by Priestley (1916). According to this theory the water, which is absorbed by the root-hairs from the soil collects in the cells of the cortex. The cortical cells become fully turgid. In such circumstances the elastic walls of the cortical cells, exert pressure on their fluid-contents and force them towards the xylem vessels. Due to this loss of water these cortical cells become flaccid, again absorb water, become turgid and thus again force out their fluid contents. Thus the cortical cells of the root carry on intermittent pumping action, as a result of which considerable pressure is set up in the root. This pressure forces water up the xylem vessels. Thus the pressure, which is set up in the cortical cells of the roots due to osmotic action, is known as the root pressure. This term was used by Stephan Hales. According to Style, root pressure may be defined as "the pressure under which water passes from the living cells of the root in the xylem".


(i) Taller plants like Eucalyptus need higher pressure to raise the water up. While the value of root pressure ranges from 2-5 atmospheres, a pressure of about 20 atm. is required to raise the water to tops of tall trees.

(ii) The absence of root pressure, ascent of sap continues.

(iii) Plants growing in cold, drought or less aerated soil, root pressure fails to appear and transport of water is normal.

In gymnosperms root pressure has rarely been observed.

(3) Physical force theories : According to these theories the ascent of sap is purely a physical process. Some of the physical force theories are mentioned below :

Capillary force theory : It was proposed by Boehm (1809). According to him, in the fine tubes, the water rises as a result of surface tension to different heights depending on the capillarity of the tube. The finer the tube, the greater will be the rise of water in it. But the xylem vessels are sometimes broader than the capillarity range, and hence the rise due to surface tension will be negligible.


(1) For capillarity a free surface is required.

(2) Atmospheric pressure can support a column of water only up to the height of 34 feet.

(3) Water can rise only up to the height of one meter in xylem vessels having diameter of 0.03mm.

(4) In gymnosperms usually the vessels are absent.

Imbibitional theory : It was proposed by Unger (1868) and supported by Sachs (1879). According to them, water moves upward in the stem through the walls of the xylem vessels. This theory is not accepted now because it is proved that water moves through the lumen of the xylem vessels and tracheids.

Atmospheric pressure theory : Due to the loss of water by transpiration, the leaves draw water from the xylem vessels through osmotic pressure. The atmospheric pressure acting on the water in the soil forces the water to rise up in the xylem vessels to fill the vacuum. But the atmospheric pressure can force the water to a height of only 10 meters. So it is evident that atmospheric pressure alone cannot force water to a height of 100 metres or more.

Jamin's chain theory : In xylem water and air bubbles are found alternately. Thus upward movement occurs.

Cohesion of water and transpiration pull theory : This is the most widely accepted theory put forth by Dixon and Joly in 1894, and further supported by Renner (1911, 1915), Curtis and Clark (1951), Bonner and Golston (1952), Kramer and Kozlowski (1960).

It is also known as Dixon's cohesion theory, or cohesion-tension theory.

This theory depends on the following assumptions :

(1) The xylem vessels are connected with each other, thus the water in them is in a continuous column from the root hairs to the mesophyll cells.

Walls of tracheids and vessels of xylem are made up of lignin and cellulose and have strong affinity for water (adhesion). The cell wall of adjacent cells, and those between the cells and xylem vessels all through the plant do not affect the continuity of the water column.

(2) Due to the transpiration from leaves, a great water deficit takes place in its cells. As a result of this deficit the water is drawn osmotically from the xylem cells in leaf veins, and by the cells surrounding the veins. Thus a sort of pull is produced in the uppermost xylem cells in the leaves. It is called as the transpiration pull.

(3) The water molecules have a great mutual attraction with each other or in other words we can say that they have tremendous cohesive power which is sometimes as much as 350 atmospheres. Thus the transpiration pull develops a negative pressure in the uppermost xylem cells. It is transmitted from there into the xylem of stems, and from there to the roots.

In this way the water rises due to the transpiration pull and the cohesive power of water molecules from the lowest parts of the roots to the highest peaks of the trees. The osmotic pressure in the transpiring leaf cells often reaches to 30 atmospheres whereas only 20 atmospheres are needed to raise the water to the tops of highest known trees.



Objections : This is the most generally accepted theory, yet there are some objections against it which it fails to explain.

The most important objection is that leaving smaller plants, the water column has been found to contain air bubbles, and so their continuity breaks at such places. This phenomenon is known as cavitation and has been demonstrated by Milburn and Johnson (1966). However, Scholander overruled this problem by suggesting that continuity of water column is maintained due to presence of pits in the lateral walls of xylem vessels.

Velocity of ascent of sap : Huber and Schmidt (1936) calculated the velocity of ascent of sap using radioactive 32P, specific dyes and also by heat-pulse transport between two specific points of stem. It varies between 1 and 6 meters per hour but under high transpirational conditions, it may be as high as 45 meters per hour. It is more in ring porous woods having large vessels. It is slowest in gymnosperms.

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