Plant nutrition is the study of the chemical elements that are necessary for plant growth. There are several principles that apply to plant nutrition.
Some elements are essential, meaning that the absence of a given mineral element will cause the plant to fail to complete its life cycle; that the element cannot be replaced by the presence of another element; and that the element is directly involved in plant metabolism (Arnon and Stout, 1939). However, this principle does not leave any room for the so-called beneficial elements, whose presence, while not required, has clear positive effects on plant growth.
Plants require specific elements for growth and, in some cases, for reproduction.
Major nutrients include:
- C = Carbon 450,000 ppm
- H = Hydrogen 60,000 ppm
- O = Oxygen 450,000 ppm
- P = Phosphorus 2,000 ppm
- K = Potassium 10,000 ppm
- N = Nitrogen 15,000 ppm
- S = Sulfur 1,000 ppm
- Ca = Calcium 5,000 ppm
- Mg = Magnesium 2000 ppm
- Fe = Iron 100 ppm
- Mo = Molybdenum 0.1 ppm
- B = Boron 20 ppm
- Cu = Copper 6 ppm
- Mn = Manganese 50 ppm
- Zn = Zinc 20 ppm
- Cl = Chlorine 100 ppm
Carbon is what most of the plant is made of. It forms the backbone of many plant biomolecules, including starches and cellulose. Carbon is fixed through photosynthesis from the carbon dioxide in the air and is a part of the carbohydrates that store energy in the plant.
Hydrogen also is necessary for building sugars and building the plant. It is obtained from air and liquid water.
Oxygen is necessary for cellular respiration. Cellular respiration is the process of generating energy-rich adenosine triphosphate (ATP) via the consumption of sugars made in photosynthesis. Oxygen gas is produced as a by-product from this reaction.
Phosphorus is important in plant bioenergetics. As a component of ATP, phosphorus is needed for the conversion of light energy to chemical energy (ATP) during photosynthesis. Phosphorus can also be used to modify the activity of various enzymes by phosphorylation, and can be used for cell signalling. Since ATP can be used for the biosynthesis of many plant biomolecules, phosphorus is important for plant growth and flower/seed formation.
Potassium regulates the opening and closing of the stoma by a potassium ion pump. Since stomata are important in water regulation, potassium reduces water loss from the leaves and increases drought tolerance. Potassium deficiency may cause necrosis or interveinal chlorosis.
Nitrogen is an essential component of all proteins. Nitrogen deficiency most often results in stunted growth.
Sulfur is a structural component of some amino acids and vitamins, and is essential in the manufacture of chloroplasts.
Calcium regulates transport of other nutrients into the plant and is also involved in the activation of certain plant enzymes. Calcium deficiency results in stunting.
Magnesium is an important part of chlorophyll, a critical plant pigment important in photosynthesis. It is important in the production of ATP through its role as an enzyme cofactor. There are many other biological roles for magnesium-- see Magnesium in biological systems for more information. Magnesium deficiency can result in interveinal chlorosis.
Iron is necessary for photosynthesis and is present as an enzyme cofactor in plants. Iron deficiency can result in interveinal chlorosis and necrosis.
Molybdenum is a cofactor to enzymes important in building amino acids.
Boron is important in sugar transport, cell division, and synthesizing certain enzymes. Boron deficiency causes necrosis in young leaves and stunting.
Copper is important for photosynthesis. Symptoms for copper deficiency include chlorosis.
Manganese is necessary for building the chloroplasts. Manganese deficiency may result in coloration abnormalities, such as discolored spots on the foliage.
Zinc is required in a large number of enzymes and plays an essential role in DNA transcription. A typical symptom of zinc deficiency is the stunted growth of leaves, commonly known as "little leaf" and is caused by the oxidative degradation of the growth hormone auxin
Nickel, in higher plants, is essential for activation of urease, an enzyme involved with nitrogen metabolism that is required to process urea. Without Nickel, toxic levels of urea accumulate, leading to the formation of necrotic lesions. In lower plants, Nickel activates several enzymes involved in a variety of processes, and can substitute for Zinc and Iron as a cofactor in some enzymes.
For More Information: Plant Nutrition & Nutrients: K-12 Experiments & Background Information
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