Stress generation in the tension wood of poplar is based on the lateral swelling power of the G-layer

The mechanism of active stress generation in tension wood is still not fully understood. To characterize the functional interdependency between the G-layer and the secondary cell wall, nanostructural characterization and mechanical tests were performed on native tension wood tissues of poplar (Populus nigra Populus deltoids) and on tissues in which the G-layer was removed by an enzymatic treatment. In addition to the wellknown axial orientation of the cellulose fibrils in the G-layer, it was shown that the microfibril angle of the S2- layer was very large (about 36). The removal of the G-layer resulted in an axial extension and a tangential contraction of the tissues. The tensile stress–strain curves of native tension wood slices showed a jagged appearance after yield that could not be seen in the enzyme-treated samples. The behaviour of the native tissue was modelled by assuming that cells deform elastically up to a critical strain at which the G-layer slips, causing a drop in stress. The results suggest that tensile stresses in poplar are generated in the living plant by a lateral swelling of the G-layer which forces the surrounding secondary cell wall to contract in the axial direction.

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