Explain the mechanism of passive water absorption and pathway of water across the root cells. Mention the factors affecting the rate of water absorption. Differentiate between active and passive water absorption.




This theory explains that the forces responsible for absorption of water into the roots are governed by other cells.  Water is continuously lost by the plants through the process called transpiration.  The loss of water from leaf surface or transpiring surface results in increased diffusion pressure deficit in the mesophyll cells, as a result of which water from the xylem elements diffuse into mesophyll cells.  The xylem elements inside the plants form a continuous column which remains filled with water.  Therefore, diffusion of water from the xylem elements at the top creates a tension on the water column present in the entire series of xylem vessels.  This tension along with diffusion pressure deficit pulls the water.  In this process, the force created at the upper part of plant plays important role and the root plays passive role.


The rate of passive absorption is dependent on the rate of transpiration by leaves rather than any activities of root.  Passive absorption accounts for 98% of total water uptake.


This theory involves apoplastic movement of water, i.e., water moves through intercellular space and cell wall in the cortex and simplest movement through endodermis and pericycle.


Absorption of water:  Entry of water into the root hair and its path to xylem through cortex


Water is first absorbed by root hair cells and the root hair cells become turgid.  The turgor pressure of root hair increases, which decreases the diffusion pressure deficit.  The adjacent cells of cortex have greater diffusion pressure deficit and less turgor pressure as compared to root hair cells.  As a result, water moves from root hairs to adjacent cortical cells.  Once the water enters into cortical cells, it decreases the diffusion pressure deficit of cell.  The diffusion pressure deficit of next cortical cell is comparatively greater.  This results in movement of water from cell to cell in the cortex.  Water finally reaches up to the endodermis.  The endodermis cells are characterized to possess Casparian thickenings in their radial and transverse walls.  They are, therefore, impermeable to water however, there are certain cells in endodermis which are devoid of thickening called passage cells.  These passage cells are usually situated opposite to protoxylem elements.  These passage cells allow movement of water which finally enter into pericycle cells.  The cells of pericycle now become turgid and their diffusion pressure deficit is decreased.  Next to pericycle are situated xylem elements.  The xylem elements lack turgor pressure and they always take water from adjacent pericycle.  Water which enters into xylem pericycle moves upward along the ascent of sap.



Most of the factors which affect the rate of water absorption are soil factors, although atmospheric condition also affects the process.  Some of the important factors are as follows:

  1. Available soil water: The most effective soil water which is readily available to plants is capillary water.  It is filled in the spaces between non colloidal soil particles.  Water is absorbed uniformly between the field capacity and permanent wilting percentage.  If water in soil is present below permanent wilting percentage or beyond field capacity, water absorption is affected.
  2. Temperature of soil: The absorption of water is maximum generally between 20-30 centigrade of soil temperature.  The low temperature of soil that is less than 20 degree centigrade reduces the rate of absorption of water.  At low temperature, the soil solution is more viscous, protoplasm is less permeable and growth of root is inhibited.  These factors inhibit the absorption of water.  Increase in temperature above 30 degree centigrade causes decrease in the rate of absorption.
  3. Concentration of soil solution: If the soil water is in form of concentrated solution (due to dissolved salt and mineral) its osmotic pressure will be greater than that of cell sap.  The water will tend to move out due to exosmosis rather than entering the root hair cell.  Thus, the concentration of soil inhibits the absorption of water.


  1. Aeration of soil: Poorly aerated soil, particularly when it is deficient in oxygen retards absorption of water.  This is brought about by retarding growth and development of fresh root and also disturbing their metabolic activities.  Accumulation of carbon dioxide also inhibits absorption of water.  Increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in soil air causes increase in the viscosity of protoplasm and reduces the membrane permeability.  This slows down the rate of absorption.  In water-logged soil, all the pore spaces of soil get filled with water and air is driven out, hence the water absorption is slow.




Active Water Absorption Passive Water Absorption
1.  It cannot take place in the absence of roots. 1.  Passive water absorption can occur even in the absence of roots.
2.  Root cells play an active role in this type of water absorption. 2.  Root cells have no active role in passive water absorption.
3.  Living root cells either pump water into xylem or deposit solutes in the xylem. 3.  Transpiration creates a tension in xylem.
4.  Force of active water absorption lies in the roots. 4.  Force of passive water absorption develops in shoot.
5.  Active water absorption takes place in some plants only . 5.  Passive water absorption occurs in all the plants.
6.  Active water absorption uses metabolic energy. 6.  Passive water absorption uses radiation energy.
7.  It is not influenced by transpiration. 7.  It is dependent upon transpiration.
8.  Active water absorption immediately influenced by metabolic poisons. 8.  Metabolic poisons do not have any immediate effect on passive water absorption.
9.  It is manifested in the form of root pressure. 9.  It is manifested in the form of transpiration pull.
10.  It creates a positive pressure in the xylem channels. 10.  Passive water absorption produces a negative pressure in the xylem channels
11.  Active water absorption is found certain seasons only 11.  Passive water absorption is found throughout the year.

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