The dynamics of stem water storage in the tops of Earth's largest trees - Sequoiadendron giganteum

Cameron B. Williams, Rikke Reese Næsborg, Anthony R. Ambrose, Wendy L. Baxter, George W. Koch, Todd E. Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Water stored in tree stems (i.e., trunks and branches) is an important contributor to transpiration that can improve photosynthetic carbon gain and reduce the probability of cavitation. However, in tall trees, the capacity to store water may decline with height because of chronically low water potentials associated with the gravitational potential gradient. We quantified the importance of elastic stem water storage in the top 5-6 m of large (4.2-5.0 m diameter at breast height, 82.1-86.3 m tall) Sequoiadendron giganteum (Lindley) J. Buchholz (giant sequoia) trees using a combination of architectural measurements and automated sensors that monitored summertime diel rhythms in sap flow, stem diameter and water potential. Stem water storage contributed 1.5-1.8% of water transpired at the tree tops, and hydraulic capacitance ranged from 2.6 to 4.1 l MPa-1 m-3. These values, which are considerably smaller than reported for shorter trees, may be associated with persistently low water potentials imposed by gravity and could indicate a trend of decreasing water storage dynamics with height in tree. Branch diameter contraction and expansion consistently and substantially lagged behind fluxes in water potential and sap flow, which occurred in sync. This lag suggests that the inner bark, which consists mostly of live secondary phloem tissue, was an important hydraulic capacitor, and that hydraulic resistance between xylem and phloem retards water transfer between these tissues. We also measured tree-base sap flux, which lagged behind that measured in trunks near the tree tops, indicating additional storage in the large trunks between these measurement positions. Whole-tree sap flow ranged from 2227 to 3752 l day-1, corroborating previous records for similar-sized giant sequoia and representing the largest yet reported for any individual tree. Despite such extraordinarily high daily water use, we estimate that water stored in tree-top stems contributes minimally to transpiration on typical summer days.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2262-2278
Number of pages17
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • diel tree rhythms
  • hydrostatic gradient
  • point dendrometer
  • stem hydraulic capacitance
  • stem psychrometer
  • tree water storage
  • volumetric sap flow
  • xylem-phloem water transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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