Dew is a frequently observed meteorological phenomenon and its importance to the water balance in arid and semi-arid regions has been recognized. The focus of our study was to evaluate the potential significance of leaf wetting by dew on semi-arid crop production in terms of its effects on plant physiological functions. We conducted a field experiment in a maizefield in northwest China. Leaf wetting by dew occurred on 45% of days during cultivation periods, and leaf water potential was higher for leaves wetted by dew than for those not wetted during the morning. In addition, we conducted a potted maize control experiment consisting of four treatments (two different soil water treatments: water-stressed and well-watered, and two different leaf wetting treatments: with and without leaf wetting). The water-stressed treatment strongly inhibited plant physiological functions (decrease in leaf water potential, stomatal closure, decrease in photosynthetic rate); therefore, growth rate decreased. However, in the water-stressed with leaf wetting plot, the maize leaves absorbed water from their surfaces during nighttime, which significantly increased pre-dawn leaf water potential. Consequently, this plot showed a higher photosynthetic rate than did the water-stressed without leaf wetting plot during daytime. The positive effects of leaf wetting on plant physiological functions were not explicit in the well-watered plots. We assumed that the positive effects of leaf wetting were mainly manifest as effects on plant–water relations; such effects may be limited when plants have sufficient water. As a result, water-stressed plants with leaf wetting showed greater water use efficiency. Our results indicate the importance of leaf wetting by dew as a water resource in semi-arid crop production owing its effects on plant physiological functions.
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