African rue is an invasive herbaceous perennial that occurs in several states in the western United States. The ability of African rue seedlings to tolerate and recover from progressive drought was examined in greenhouse experiments. Water was withheld for 15 d, and a subset of plants were rewatered after 12 d of water deficit to examine recovery. Conductance rate decreased to 0.1 mol H2O m−2 s−1 and photosynthesis rate decreased to 2 µmol CO2 m−2 s−1 within 6 and 12 d, respectively. Leaf water potential decreased more slowly than gas exchange rates; after 15 d of water deficit plants maintained net carbon gain at −4.8 MPa. Photosynthesis and conductance rates of rewatered plants recovered to levels similar to well-watered controls within 9 and 12 d, respectively. After 9 d of water deficit, seedlings needed only 4 d to recover physiological function similar to well-watered controls. Reduced seedling biomass was observed after 6 d of water deficit, and biomass remained smaller than controls after 15 d of recovery. The rapid change in conductance rate and slower response in leaf water potential indicates that stomatal control is an important component of seedling response to water deficit. The success of African rue in arid environments is due in part to the ability of seedlings to tolerate and recover from water deficit.
Nomenclature: African rue; Peganum harmala L. PEGHA.