Symptoms of Mineral Deficiency in Plants


The most common mineral deficiencies, as seen in maize leaves. Mineral deficiency symptoms may vary in different species. In maize, nitrogen deficiency is evident in a yellowing that starts at the tip and moves along the center (midrib) of older leaves. Phosphorus-deficient maize plants have reddish purple margins, particularly in young leaves. Potassium-deficient maize plants exhibit “firing,” or drying, along tips and margins of older leaves.
Source: Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 809). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Campbell Biology

The symptoms of a deficiency depend partly on the mineral’s function as a nutrient. For example, a deficiency of magnesium, a component of chlorophyll, causes chlorosis, yellowing of leaves. In some cases, the relationship between a deficiency and its symptoms is less direct. For instance, iron deficiency can cause chlorosis even though chlorophyll contains no iron, because iron ions are required as a cofactor in an enzymatic step of chlorophyll synthesis.

Mineral deficiency symptoms depend not only on the role of the nutrient but also on its mobility within the plant. If a nutrient moves about freely, symptoms appear first in older organs because young, growing tissues use more nutrients that are in short supply. For example, magnesium is relatively mobile and is shunted preferentially to young leaves. Therefore, a plant deficient in magnesium first shows signs of chlorosis in its older leaves. In contrast, a deficiency of a mineral that is relatively immobile affects young parts of the plant first. Older tissues may have adequate amounts that they retain during periods of short supply. For example, iron does not move freely within a plant, and an iron deficiency causes yellowing of young leaves before any effect on older leaves is visible. The mineral requirements of a plant may also change with the time of the year and the age of the plant. Young seedlings, for example, rarely show mineral deficiency symptoms because their mineral requirements are met largely by minerals released from stored reserves in the seeds themselves.

The symptoms of a mineral deficiency may vary between species but in a given plant are often distinctive enough to aid in diagnosis. Deficiencies of phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen are most common. Micronutrient shortages are less common than macronutrient shortages and tend to occur in certain geographic regions because of differences in soil composition. One way to confirm a diagnosis is to analyze the mineral content of the plant or soil. The amount of a micronutrient needed to correct a deficiency is usually small. For example, a zinc deficiency in fruit trees can usually be cured by hammering a few zinc nails into each tree trunk.

Moderation is important because overdoses of a micronutrient or macronutrient can be detrimental or toxic. Too much nitrogen, for example, can lead to excessive vine growth in tomato plants at the expense of good fruit production.


Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.


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