transpiration

transpiration, in botany, the loss of water by evaporation in terrestrial plants. Some evaporation occurs directly through the exposed walls of surface cells, but the greatest amount takes place through the stomates, or intercellular spaces (see leaf). Transpiration functions to effect the ascent of sap from the roots to the leaves (thus supplying the food-manufacturing cells with water needed for photosynthesis) and to provide the moisture necessary for the diffusion of carbon dioxide into and oxygen out of these cells. The rate of transpiration is almost always far greater than the above functions would seem to warrant; in most plants 200 to 1,000 lb (90–450 kg) of water are transpired for each pound of solid material added to the plant. Various factors influence the transpiration rate. Photosynthesis, induced by light, has the effect of increasing the water pressure in the guard cells that border each stomate and that, in expanding, pull apart to widen the stomate aperture and thereby increase water loss. Low humidity promotes the diffusion of water vapor from the air passages inside the leaf into the outside air. A lack of water in the soil cuts down the water supply to the cells, thus limiting expansion of the guard cells. Therefore the rate is highest on a bright, dry day and lowest at night or in drought conditions. Morphological factors such as reduced leaf surfaces, a heavy cuticle layer on the leaves, low numbers of stomates, and stomates recessed below the other epidermal cells also lower the rate; desert plants such as conifers and cacti conserve water in these ways. Plants also lose some water by guttation, a process whereby water is exuded directly through pores called hydathodes. The reaction of a plant to excessive water loss is wilting and, eventually, death.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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