Stemflow, canopy drip, and throughfall

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Ecology Theory (main)

October 16, 2006, 11:57 pm
April 14, 2011, 7:56 pm
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250px-Leaf water interception.jpg Figure 1: Vegetation can intercept up to 50% of the rain that falls on its leaves. The leaves of Deciduous trees commonly intercept anywhere from 20 to 30% of the falling rain. Water dripping off leaves to the ground surface is technically called leaf drip. (Source:
250px-Precipitation modification by vegetation.jpg Figure 2: Modification of falling precipitation by vegetation The relative quantity of precipitation entering the soil is indicated in dark brown. (Source:

Vegetation often modifies the intensity and distribution of precipitation falling on and through its leaves and woody structures. The most obvious effect plants have on falling precipitation is interception (Figure 1). Interception can be technically defined as the capture of precipitation by the plant canopy and its subsequent return to the atmosphere through evaporation or sublimation. The amount of precipitation intercepted by plants varies with leaf type, canopy architecture, wind speed, available radiation, temperature, and the humidity of the atmosphere.

Precipitation that is not intercepted can be influenced by the following processes (see Figure 2):

  • Stemflow - the process that directs precipitation down plant branches and stems (red arrows in Figure 2). The redirection of water by this process causes the ground area around the plant's stem to receive additional moisture. The amount of stemflow is determined by leaf shape and stem and branch architecture. In general, deciduous trees have more stemflow than coniferous vegetation.
  • Canopy drip - some plants have an architecture that directs rainfall or snowfall along the edge of the plant canopy (purple arrows in Figure 1). This is especially true of coniferous vegetation. On the ground, canopy drip creates areas with higher moisture content that are located in a narrow band at the edge of the plant canopy.
  • Throughfall - describes the process of precipitation passing through the plant canopy (yellow dashed lines in Figure 2). This process is controlled by factors like: plant leaf and stem density, type of the precipitation, intensity of the precipitation, and duration of the precipitation event. The amount of precipitation passing through varies greatly with vegetation type.

Further Reading


Pidwirny, M. (2011). Stemflow, canopy drip, and throughfall. Retrieved from,_canopy_drip,_and_throughfall