• Vulnerability to cavitation and conductive efficiency depend on xylem anatomy. We tested a large range of structure–function hypotheses, some for the first time, within a single genus to minimize phylogenetic ‘noise’ and maximize detection of functionally relevant variation. • This integrative study combined in-depth anatomical observations using light, scanning and transmission electron microscopy of seven Acer taxa, and compared these observations with empirical measures of xylem hydraulics. • Our results reveal a 2 MPa range in species’ mean cavitation pressure (MCP). MCP was strongly correlated with intervessel pit structure (membrane thickness and porosity, chamber depth), weakly correlated with pit number per vessel, and not related to pit area per vessel. At the tissue level, there was a strong correlation between MCP and mechanical strength parameters, and some of the first evidence is provided for the functional significance of vessel grouping and thickenings on inner vessel walls. In addition, a strong trade-off was observed between xylemspecific conductivity and MCP. Vessel length and intervessel wall characteristics were implicated in this safety–efficiency trade-off. • Cavitation resistance and hydraulic conductivity in Acer appear to be controlled by a very complex interaction between tissue, vessel network and pit characteristics.† Methods Observations of wood anatomy of 21 woody Spermacoceae and eight woody Knoxieae species, most of them included in a multi-gene molecular phylogeny, are carried out using light microscopy. † Key Results Observations of wood anatomy in Spermacoceae support the molecular hypothesis that all the woody species examined are secondary derived. Well-known wood anatomical characters that demonstrate this shift from the herbaceous to the woody habit are the typically flat or decreasing length vs. age curves for vessel elements, the abundance of square and upright ray cells, or even the (near-) absence of rays. These socalled paedomorphic wood features are also present in the Knoxieae genera Otiophora, Otomeria, Pentas, Pentanisia and Phyllopentas. However, the wood structure of the other Knoxieae genera observed (Carphalea, Dirichletia and Triainolepis) is typical of primarily woody taxa. † Conclusions In Spermacoceae, secondary woodiness has evolved numerous times in strikingly different habitats. In Knoxieae, there is a general trend from primary woodiness towards herbaceousness and back to (secondary) woodiness.

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New Phytologist
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Lens, F, Sperry, J.S, Christmas, M.A, Rabaey, D, & Jansen, S. (2011). Testing hypotheses that link wood anatomy to cavitation resistance and hydraulic conductivity in the genus Acer. New Phytologist, 190, 709–723. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2010.03518.x