Formation and lignification of xylem cells in mature beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) trees growing in a forest site in Slovenia (46° N, 14°40′ E, 400 m a.s.l.) were studied on the cellular and subcellular level. Samples containing the cambial zone and developing xylem were taken from six beech trees every week throughout the 2006 vegetation period. Cell wall thickening and lignification in individual cell wall layers and cell types were determined by light microscopy, cellular UV-microspectrophotometry and transmission electron microscopy, respectively. Cell division started between the 18th and the 24th of April 2006. Lignification began in the newly formed xylem tissue on the 2nd of May. After 1 month, the developing earlywood portion contained fully differentiated vessels with completed wall deposition and lignification, and differentiated fibres and axial parenchyma became visible after 2 months. At the end of cambial cell division on the 9th August, the differentiation of the most recently formed fibres in the terminal zone of the growth ring continued for approximately 4 weeks. This indicates that the process of lignification in earlywood is slower than in latewood. The high temporal resolution of the investigated processes and the combination of the above-mentioned microscopic techniques provides a detailed insight into the process of cell wall thickening and lignification of woody tissue in beech.
©2009 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin New York