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Unformatted text preview: e plant with the water from the soil. Even nitrogen, which is a gas in its elemental state, in normally absorbed from the soil as nitrate ions. Some soils are notoriously deficient in micro nutrients and are therefore unable to support most plant life. Socalled serpentine soils, for example, are deficient in calcium, and only plants able to tolerate low levels of this mineral can survive. In modern agriculture, mineral depletion of soils is a major concern, since harvesting crops interrupts the recycling of nutrients back to the soil.
Mineral deficiencies can often be detected by specific symptoms such as chlorosis (loss of chlorophyll resulting in yellow or white leaf issue), necrosis (isolated dead patches), anthocyanin formation (development of deep red pigmentation of leaves or stem), stunted growth, and development of woody tissue in an herbaceous plant. Soils are most commonly deficient in nitrogen and phosphorus. Nitrogendeficient plants exhibit many of the symptoms just described. Leaves develop chlorosis; stems are short and slender, and anthocyanin discoloration occurs on stems, petioles, and lower leaf surfaces. Phosphorusdeficient plants are often stunted, with leaves turning a characteristic dark green, often with the accumulation of anthocyanin. Typically, older leaves are affected first as the phosphorus is mobilized to young growing tissue. Iron deficiency is characterized by chlorosis between veins in young leaves.
Much of the research on nutrient deficiencies is based on growing plants hydroponically, that is, in soilless liquid nutrient solutions. This technique allows researchers to create solutions that selectively omit certain nutrients and then observe the resulting effects on the plants. Hydroponics has applications beyond basic research, since it facilitates the growing of greenhouse vegetables during winter. Acroponics, a technique in which plants are suspended and the roots misted with a nutrient solution, is another method for growing plants without soil.
While mineral deficiencies can limit the growth of plants, an overabundance of certain minerals can be toxic and can also limit growth. Saline soils, which have high concentrations of sodium chloride and other salts, limit plant growth, and research continues to focus on developing salttolerant varieties of agricultural crops. Research has focused on the toxic effects of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and aluminum; however, even copper and zinc, which are essential elements, can become toxic in high concentrations. Although most plants cannot survive in these soils, certain plants have the ability to tolerate high levels of these minerals.
Scientists have known for some time that certain plants, called hyper accumulators, can concentrate minerals at levels a hundredfold or greater than normal. A survey of known hyper accumulators identified that 75 percent of them amassed nickel, cobalt, copper, zinc, manganese, lead, and cadmium are other minerals of choice. Hyper accumulators run the entire range of the plant world. They may be herbs, shrubs, or trees. Many members of the...
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- Fall '13