Transpiration is the evaporation of water from plants. It occurs chiefly at the leaves while their stomata are open for the passage of CO2 and O2 during photosynthesis. But air that is not fully saturated with water vapor (100% relative humidity) will dry the surfaces of cells with which it comes in contact. So the photosynthesizing leaf loses substantial amount of water by evaporation. This transpired water must be replaced by the transport of more water from the soil to the leaves through the xylem of the roots and stem.
Transpiration is not simply a hazard of plant life. It is the "engine" that pulls water up from the roots to:
- supply photosynthesis (1%-2% of the total)
- bring minerals from the roots for biosynthesis within the leaf
- cool the leaf
Using a potometer (above), one can study the effect of various environmental factors on the rate of transpiration. As water is transpired or otherwise used by the plant, it is replaced from the reservoir on the right. This pushes the air bubble to the left providing a precise measure of the volume of water used.
Environmental factors that affect the rate of transpiration
Plants transpire more rapidly in the light than in the dark. This is largely because light stimulates the opening of the stomata (mechanism). Light also speeds up transpiration by warming the leaf.
Plants transpire more rapidly at higher temperatures because water evaporates more rapidly as the temperature rises. At 30°C, a leaf may transpire three times as fast as it does at 20°C.
The rate of diffusion of any substance increases as the difference in concentration of the substances in the two regions increases.When the surrounding air is dry, diffusion of water out of the leaf goes on more rapidly.
When there is no breeze, the air surrounding a leaf becomes increasingly humid thus reducing the rate of transpiration. When a breeze is present, the humid air is carried away and replaced by drier air.
5. Soil water
A plant cannot continue to transpire rapidly if its water loss is not made up by replacement from the soil. When absorption of water by the roots fails to keep up with the rate of transpiration, loss of turgor occurs, and the stomata close. This immediately reduces the rate of transpiration (as well as of photosynthesis). If the loss of turgor extends to the rest of the leaf and stem, the plant wilts.
The volume of water lost in transpiration can be very high. It has been estimated that over the growing season, one acre of corn (maize) plants may transpire 400,000 gallons (1.5 million liters) of water. As liquid water, this would cover the field with a lake 15 inches (38 cm) deep. An acre of forest probably does even better.