Techniques for measuring xylem cavitation and embolism in plants


The techniques for measuring cavitation and embolism in plant are very diverse but they do not all work well… The reliability of these techniques is actually a central issue in our field. Here is a recent review on this topic: 

Cochard H, Badel E, Herbette S, Delzon S,  Choat B, Jansen S 2013 Methods for measuring plant vulnerability to cavitation: a critical review. Journal of Experimental Botany 64: 4779-4791 pdf


Here, I will present two of our favorite techniques that we use routinely in our lab. The Xyl’em is an apparatus we have designed primarily to measure xylem embolism via its effect on loss of xylem conductance. We use it also to measure whole leaf conductance in its HPFM mode, although this method for measuring Kleaf is no longer recommended. The Xyl’em apparatus is commercialized by Bronkhorst. We have five of them in the lab, they work great! The Cavitron was invented to construct xylem vulnerability curves to cavitation by centrifugation. We have four of them in the lab.







XYL’EM apparatus


We have developed this apparatus in collaboration with Bronkhorst. Please visit their site for more information


Please report bugs to  Check for regular updates!


Important information:


The first Xyl'em+ apparatus were released with flowmeters of the L13-10S series (range less than 20g/h). These flowmeters appeared to have a high internal pressure drop which may bias the conductance data. They were later replaced by the L13-10S series that have a much lower pressure drop. To account for this problem, we have now changed the position of the flowmeter in the fluid diagram. We recommend operating this modification.


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If you can to use an external flowmeter you should position it on the OUTLET tubing as below:

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Software releases:


XYL’EM and XYL’EM+ apparatus

This new version is compatible with both apparatus (enter setup first!). XylWin will no longer be update. We invite all users to update to this new version that solves a number of bugs reported with XylWin3.0


XylWin+ 3.3 (November 2015)

A new version that will fix some problem during the installation. A zip file that contains the executable files Xylem.exe.


XylWin+ 3.2 (April 2014)

This version fixes a problem caused by electrical interferences with other apparatus that can disconnect the USB communication. It is now recommended to move away such apparatus (like pumps) from the Xyl’em box.


XylWin+ 3.1 (October 2013)

·      A missing DLL is now included

·      mmol/kg selection fixed


XylWin+ 2.0  (December 2012)

Here is the manual of this apparatus: pdf


XYL’EM apparatus

Former softwares to operate the Xyl’em box

You should uninstall an older version before installing a new one!

Xyl’em.xls  An Excel file to operate the Xyl’em manually

XylDos  Works with DOS or a DOS window in Windows

XylWin 1.1 Works with Windows 98. « Save as » function not working !

XylWin 2.0 Works with Windows XP

(make sure to use “.” And not “,” as the decimal delimiter!

XylWin 2.01 Problem with Manual temperature and Manual LP fixed

XylWin 2.02 A problem with data display has been fixed

XylWin 2.1

·       Added a switch  to select the INTERNAL or EXTERNAL flowmeters

·       Solved a problem with the “flow” graphic

XylWin 2.2

·       You can now select any COM port in the Setup panel

·       Solved a problem with the “flow-range” bar indicator

·       Problems with the installation of this version have been reported

XylWin 3.0 

·      A ‘standalone’ version entirely rewritten

·      Simply unzip the .zip file in a new Xylem3 directory

·      Launch xylem.exe and enter setup menu to configure your equipment







We have recently developed this technique for rapid generation of vulnerability curves. It is base on a centrifuge system.

Here are some technical information about this technique ppt  and papers describing its principles:

·       Cochard H 2002 technique for measuring xylem hydraulic conductance under high negative pressures. Plant Cell and Environment 25 : 815-819. pdf

·       Cochard H, Damour G, Bodet C, Tharwat I, Poirier M, Améglio T 2005 Evaluation of a new centrifuge technique for rapid generation of xylem vulnerability curves. Physiologia Plantarum 124:410-418 pdf


A number of artefacts or flaws with this technique have been reported.

·       Beikircher B, Ameglio T, Cochard H, Mayr, S (2010) Limitation of the Cavitron technique by conifer pit aspiration.  Journal of Experimental Botany 61: 3385-3393 pdf

·       Cochard H, Herbette S, Barigah T, Badel E, Ennajeh M, Vilagrosa A 2010. Does sample length influence the shape of xylem embolism vulnerability curves? A test with the Cavitron spinning technique. Plant Cell and Environment 33: 1543–1552. pdf

·       Cochard H, Badel E, Herbette S, Delzon S,  Choat B, Jansen S 2013 Methods for measuring plant vulnerability to cavitation: a critical review. Journal of Experimental Botany doi: 10.1093/jxb/ert193 pdf



Additional information can be found in Sylvain Delzon’s site:




The “Cavit-Home” is our high-throughput phenotyping platform for tree cavitation resistance. Three Sorvall RC5 high speed centrifuges have been transformed into automatized Cavitrons. The Cavitrons are operated remotely for more confort and security.  We use the Cavisoft software developed by Regis Burlett in Sylvains’lab


The Cavit-Home is open for collaborative studies and you are welcome to use our platform. Please contact me for further information.