Pigeon Pea- Hydraulic Lift


Princess Adjei-Frimpong evaluating hydraulic lift.

Princess Adjei-Frimpong evaluating hydraulic lift.

Pigeonpea has been reported to possess a hydraulic lift function, giving the crop the potential to enhance the sustainability of farming systems in dry areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Hydraulic lift (HL) is the process of water uptake by some deep-rooted plants from deep down the soil profile to upper soil layers for shallow rooted plants to use. In simple terms, the plant roots function like a sprinkler pumping water to the soil surface. Some perennial and other desert shrubs with this function use it to regulate their water use and conserve water under conditions where water demand exceeds supply. HL is thus used by these deep-rooted plants as a mechanism to meet their water requirement for metabolism and growth. Water lifted hydraulically also helps meet the water demand of neighboring plants.


Hydraulically lifted water has the potential to:

  • Help neighboring plants survive drought stress
  • Promote plant productivity
  • Improve ecosystem water balance
  • Enhance ecosystem nutrient cycling
  • Enhances nutrients uptake by roots


  • How does the plant conducting this hydraulic lift benefit from the water lifted?
  • To what extent is the hydraulically lifted water (HWL) able to stimulate growth of neighboring plants?
  • What are the possible costs and benefits of hydraulic lift?
  • What are the root properties regulating hydraulic lift?
  • The mechanism of water release is not completely understood.

Learning Lab Research

The lab has an on-going trial in Ghana and Mali seeking to determine how the hydraulic lift function in pigeonpea will limit water competition in a sorghum-pigeonpea cropping system.

Extended Bibliography and Works Cited

Caldwell, M. M., Dawson, T. E., & Richards, J. H. (1998). Hydraulic lift: Consequences of water efflux from the roots of plants. Oecologia, 113(2), 151–161. doi:10.1007/s004420050363

Caldwell, M.M. et al. (1991). Hydraulic lift: ecological implications of water efflux from roots, in Plant Root Growth: An Ecological Perspective (Atkinson, D., ed.), pp. 423–436, Blackwell.

Caldwell M M 1990 Water parasitism stemming from hydraulic lift: A quantitative test in the field. Isr. J. Bot. 39, 395–402.  


West African Shrub Initiative: Native shrub intercropping – a climate smart innovation to remediate degraded soils and improve food and nutrition security across the Sahel of sub-Saharan Africa.

Challenges Addressed: Poverty and Food Insecurity, Soil Quality, Soil Fertility, and low Productivity, Climate Change.

Figure 1. Hydraulic Lift Annotated Slide