BACKGROUND AND AIMSAround the time of anthesis, young ovary development in maize (Zea mays) is vulnerable to 2 or 3 d of water deficits that inhibit photosynthesis. Abortion can result, and fewer kernels are produced. A breakdown of stored ovary starch is associated with the abortion and was investigated in the present study by localizing the breakdown product glucose in the ovaries.METHODSOvary glucose was localized with fluorescent Resorufin. Insoluble invertase was localized in vivo and soluble invertase in situ. Sucrose was infused into the stems to vary the sugar flux to the ovaries.KEY RESULTSAt high water potential (high Psi(w)), photosynthesis was rapid in the parent. The upper pedicel of the ovaries had a high activity of insoluble acid invertase and a large amount of glucose and starch. Because the invertase was wall-bound, sucrose hydrolysis appeared to occur in the pedicel apoplast. Soluble invertase was undetected inside the pedicel cells but was present in the nucellus cells where low concentrations of glucose occurred. This created a glucose gradient between pedicel and nucellus that favoured glucose uptake by the developing ovary. At low Psi(w), photosynthesis was inhibited, pedicel glucose and starch were depleted, the glucose gradient became negligible, and abortion occurred. When sucrose was fed, glucose, starch and the glucose gradient were maintained somewhat and were normally distributed in the ovaries. Abortion was diminished.CONCLUSIONSThe apoplast hydrolysis of sucrose unloaded from phloem is similar to that described by others during later development when embryo and endosperm are present and separated from the parent by an apoplast. The disappearance of the glucose gradient at low Psi(w) may have inhibited glucose movement into the ovary. The low glucose in the ovaries may have a role in the abortion response.