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Manuel G. Astacio and Marc W. van Iersel

Previous work has shown that exogenous abscisic acid (ABA) applications can reduce transpiration, delay wilting, and thereby extend the shelf life of unwatered plants. Paradoxically, we have seen that drenches with concentrated ABA solutions may actually induce wilting. These wilting symptoms occur despite the presence of ample water in the substrate, suggesting that ABA may interfere with the ability of roots to take up water. Our objective was to develop a better understanding of this wilting effect using tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) as a model. In the first study, ABA drenches (125–2000 mg·L−1) reduced transpiration and water use compared with the control plants, yet the relative water content (RWC) of the leaves of ABA-treated plants was lower than that of control plants at 24 h after the ABA drench. Control plants had a leaf RWC of 97%, whereas plants treated ABA had a RWC of 57% to 62%. ABA concentrations of 500 mg·L−1 or higher caused the plants to wilt within 24 h despite the presence of ample water in the substrate. Leaf ABA concentrations 24 h after the ABA application ranged from 2.6 (control) to 62.6 nmol·g−1 fresh weight (FW) in the 2000-mg·L−1 ABA treatment, indicating effective transport of ABA from the roots to the leaves. The reduced leaf RWC suggests that ABA drenches are limiting water transport through the roots to the leaves. The effects of ABA on the hydraulic conductance of the roots and stems of tomatoes were quantified to determine if ABA drenches limit water transport through the roots. The cumulative volume of water conducted by the root systems during a 4-day period ranged from 36.7 mL in the control treatments to 8.1 mL in roots systems drenched with 1000 mg·L−1 ABA, a reduction of 78%. When the conductance study was repeated using decapitated roots and excised stems, root water flux was again reduced by ABA, but water flux through internodal stem sections did not show an ABA effect. Results suggest that ABA-induced wilting is caused by a reduction in root conductance and we hypothesize that ABA affects aquaporins in the roots, limiting water uptake.

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Manuel G. Astacio and Marc W. van Iersel

It is common for plants in the retail market to receive inadequate water and lose aesthetic value within a short period of time. The plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) is naturally produced in response to drought conditions and reduces transpiration (E) by closing the stomata. Thus, ABA may lengthen shelf life of retail plants by reducing water loss. Two studies were conducted to look at effects of ABA on plant water use and shelf life over a 13-day period and short-term effects of ABA on leaf physiology. The objective of the short-term study was to determine how quickly 100-mL drenches of 250 mg·L−1 ABA solution affect leaf gas exchange of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Supersweet 100’). ABA drenches reduced stomatal conductance (g S), E, and photosynthetic rate (Pn) within 60 min. After 2 h, E, g s, and Pn were reduced by 66%, 72%, and 55% respectively, compared with the control plants. In the13-day study, ABA was applied to tomatoes as a 100-mL drench at concentrations ranging from 0 to 1000 mg·L−1 and ABA effects on water use and time to wilting were quantified. Half of the plants were not watered after ABA application, whereas the other plants were watered as needed. In general, higher ABA concentrations resulted in less water use by both well-watered and unwatered plants. ABA delayed wilting of unwatered plants by 2 to 8 days (dependent on the dose) as compared with control plants. In well-watered plants, ABA reduced daily evapotranspiration (ET) for 5 days, after which there were no further ABA effects. Negative side effects of the ABA application were rate-dependent chlorosis of the lower leaves followed by leaf abscission. These studies demonstrate that ABA drenches rapidly close stomata, limit transpirational water loss, and can extend the shelf life of retail plants by up to 8 days, which exemplifies its potential as a commercially applied plant growth regulator.