Causes and consequences of high osmotic potentials in epiphytic higher plants

Craig E. Martin, T. C. Lin*, K. C. Lin, C. C. Hsu, W. L. Chiou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Past reports of the water relations of epiphytes, particularly bromeliads, indicate that tissue osmotic potentials in these tropical and subtropical plants are very high (close to zero) and are similar to values for aquatic plants. This is puzzling because several ecophysiological studies have revealed a high degree of drought stress tolerance in some of these epiphytes. The goal of this study was two-fold: (1) to increase the number of epiphytic taxa sampled for tissue osmotic potentials; and (2) to explain the apparent discrepancy in the significance of the tissue water relations and tolerance of drought stress in epiphytes. Tissue osmotic potentials of 30 species of epiphytic ferns, lycophytes, and orchids were measured in a subtropical rain forest in northeastern Taiwan. Nearly all values were less negative than -1.0 MPa, in line with all previous data for epiphytes. It is argued that such high osmotic potentials, indicative of low solute concentrations, are the result of environmental constraints of the epiphytic habitat on productivity of these plants, and that low rates of photosynthesis and transpiration delay the onset of turgor loss in the tissues of epiphytes such that they appear to be very drought-stress tolerant. Maintenance of photosynthetic activity long into drought periods is ascribed to low rates of transpiration and, hence, delayed tissue desiccation, and hydration of the photosynthetic tissue at the expense of water from the water-storage parenchyma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1119-1124
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Plant Physiology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2004 Oct
Externally publishedYes


  • Drought stress
  • Epiphytes
  • Ferns
  • Lycophytes
  • Orchids
  • Osmotic potential
  • Photosynthesis
  • Stomata
  • Taiwan
  • Transpiration
  • Water relations
  • Water-storage parenchyma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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