Ecological significance of wood anatomy in two lianas from arid southwestern Saudi Arabia
Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences
The hot and arid lowlands of southwestern Saudi Arabia are home to two common lianas Cocculus pendulus and Leptadenia arborea. This paper attempts to relate the adaptation of these two climbing woody perennials to such a harsh environment to the anatomy and hydraulic characteristics of their wood. The stems of these lianas have wood with wide xylem vessels and high hydraulic conductivity which should enhance water flow to the upper canopy despite their severe twisting. Hydraulic conductivity is further helped by the simple perforation plates of xylem vessels. The circular thickening of xylem walls gives them strength and reduces the risk of their collapse and the ensuing embolism in the advent of high tension created by severe water deficit and high evapo-transpiration demand. Wide vessels on the other hand are more susceptible to embolism. This problem may be overcome by reducing the solute potential of xylem sap by hydrolysis of starch grains which were found to be abundant in the vicinity of the vessels. This should help absorb water by the deep roots from the capillary fringes of the typically shallow water table in this particular habitat. Furthermore the abundance of ray parenchyma cells between xylem groups of both lianas provides great flexibility with minimum damage to water conduits in the stem during climbing and twisted growth. It was concluded that these wood features in both lianas are crucial for survival under the harsh conditions of arid Tihama plains of southwestern Saudi Arabia.