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The nature of the perennial response in Mediterranean grasses. I. Water relations and summer survival in Phalaris

JR McWilliam and PJ Kramer

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 19(3) 381 - 395
Published: 1968


An important factor in the survival of Phalaris tuberosa, a typical Mediterranean perennial grass, is the ability of its deep root system to supply water during the summer to the dormant culms at the soil surface. This behaviour contrasts with that of the related annual P. minor, which is unable to exploit subsoil moisture, and dies as soon as the surface moisture is exhausted. The volume of water supplied by the perennial roots is sufficient to offset transpiration losses and maintain a favourable water balance in the dormant culms during the summer stress. The importance of this water source for survival is indicated by the death of plants whenever this supply is interrupted by severing deep roots.

In field soils under drought conditions roots of the perennial have been followed to a depth of 7 ft in subsoil containing available moisture. The large metaxylem vessels and heavily suberized endodermis which are a feature of these roots suggest that they are well adapted to transport water up through the dry surface soil to the base of the dormant culms. The culms also show typical xerophytic characteristics which help to minimize water loss during the summer, and maintain favourable conditions for the survival of the dormant buds which develop at the basal nodes.

These conclusions concerning the survival of the perennial have been drawn from plants growing under natural conditions, and also from more detailed studies under controlled environments. They appear to be of general significance for the perennial grasses adapted to the drier Mediterranean environments and form the basis of the perennial response found in this group.

© CSIRO 1968

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