From the sap's perspective: The nature of vessel surfaces in angiosperm xylem

Premise of the Study Xylem sap in angiosperms moves under negative pressure in conduits and cell wall pores that are nanometers to micrometers in diameter, so sap is always very close to surfaces. Surfaces matter for water transport because hydrophobic ones favor nucleation of bubbles, and surface chemistry can have strong effects on flow. Vessel walls contain cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, pectins, proteins, and possibly lipids, but what is the nature of the inner, lumen‐facing surface that is in contact with sap? Methods Vessel lumen surfaces of five angiosperms from different lineages were examined via transmission electron microscopy and confocal and fluorescence microscopy, using fluorophores and autofluorescence to detect cell wall components. Elemental composition was studied by energy‐dispersive X‐ray spectroscopy, and treatments with phospholipase C (PLC) were used to test for phospholipids. Key Results Vessel surfaces consisted mainly of lignin, with strong cellulose signals confined to pit membranes. Proteins were found mainly in inter‐vessel pits and pectins only on outer rims of pit membranes and in vessel‐parenchyma pits. Continuous layers of lipids were detected on most vessel surfaces and on most pit membranes and were shown by PLC treatment to consist at least partly of phospholipids. Conclusions Vessel surfaces appear to be wettable because lignin is not strongly hydrophobic and a coating with amphiphilic lipids would render any surface hydrophilic. New questions arise about these lipids and their possible origins from living xylem cells, especially about their effects on surface tension, surface bubble nucleation, and pit membrane function.