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PLANT GROWTH

Growth is the irreversible increase in the size of a plant. Plants have


indeterminate growth which means they have the capacity to grow from
the apical meristem indefinitely.
Growth generally occurs in cycles eg. Seasonally (summer-winter) or
daily (day-night).

FACTORS AFFECTING GROWTH


All information required to build and operate a plant is carried in the
chromosomes of each cell nucleus. During the life of the plant, these
genetic programmes or blueprints are used to direct increases in growth
and development.
The genetic program that cells follow is determined by their response to
various factors:
• Signals from the environment
• Hormonal signals
• Nutritional factors

For instance, a leaf mesophyll cell, root cell and a tomato cell all have
information in the nucleus necessary to make chlorophyll. Yet it is the
leaf cell which forms chloroplasts if exposed to light. Tomatoes do make
chlorophyll early in their development, but this disappears as the fruit
matures. Thus the ability to form chlorophyll is determined initially by
the chromosomes, but the actual formation is stimulated by hormonal
and environmental factors.
The development of a typical plant is the result of interaction between
internal factors (genes, hormones) and external (environment).
Overriding these factors is the nutritional status of the plant. A plant
without access to sufficient nutrients will grow poorly, if at all, even if all
other factors are suitable.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS AFFECTING GROWTH

• Gravity
The force of gravity acting upon plant cells gives them directional
information. Root tissue responds to gravity by growing downward into
the soil (positive response). In response to the same stimulus the shoot
is programmed to grow upward (negative response), the most likely
location of light.
This growth response to gravity is called Geotropism.

In the growing regions in roots and shoots there are growth hormones. If
you put a plant on its side, the force of gravity will concentrate the
hormone (auxin) on the lower side, causing greater growth on this side.
This unequal growth on the lower side will force the tip upward.
In the root tip hormones are concentrated in the tip directing a
downward growth pattern.

• Light
Light striking one side of a stem causes less growth hormone on that
side and a concentration on the darker side. This results in increased
growth on the darker side, curving the tip toward the light.
This response is called Phototropism.
Light regulates the elongation process in stems so that the stem can
develop the necessary strength to support itself above the ground. A
stem kept in darkness will not have this control and will elongate rapidly
and become very spindly in the dark.
This is called Etiolation.
Light filtered through the leaves of other plants, for example in a dense
forest, is of lower intensity than that above the tree canopy and this
darkness appears to cause elongation of stems which has the effect of
raising them nearer the light.
Plants native to a specific area and climate are able to time their
activities (flowering, seed formation and dormancy) in relation to the
seasons. The seasonal change in daylength is a reliable cue and plants
have evolved systems for “measuring” the relative lengths of night and
day.
This response is called Photoperiodism.
The lengthening of days of late spring is an indication of approaching
summer, just as the shorter days of late summer predict oncoming
winter.
For example, many plants produce flowers in response to these factors:

Short day plants


Must have less than 14 hour’s daylight to flower.

Long day plants


Must have greater than 14 hour’s daylight to flower

Day neutral plants


Flowering is not affected by daylength.

N.B. Although we call them ‘long’ and ‘short’ day plants, it is really the
length of the period of uninterrupted darkness which is the controlling
factor. For example, a long day plant may be stimulated to flower in mid
winter by interrupting the long night with a period (or periods) of light,
making it “think” the days are longer.

Vernalisation is the interplay between photoperiodism and


temperature in biennial plants.
These plants require a period of low temperatures (eg winter) before
they will respond to longer days (eg spring) and begin to flower. Thus
they grow vegetatively in the first season and flower the following
season.
Daylength also affects aspects of vegetative development, hairiness,
leaf fall, onset of dormancy and formation of underground food storage.
Other factors such as temperature, water availability, nutrients, gases
and light quality are also important in determining plant growth and
development.

INTERNAL FACTORS AFFECTING GROWTH


• Hormones.
Hormones are chemical substances produced in small amounts in one
tissue and transported to another tissue where they have an effect.
They are chemical messengers which regulate growth.
There are five important hormones which are found in nearly all seed
plants and these coordinate the growth of the plant as a whole. Many of
the effects of the external environment on development are mediated
by the distribution of these hormones within the plant. They are:
1. Auxin
2. Cytokinins
3. Gibberellins
4. Abscisic acid
5. Ethylene

Auxin
Auxin is manufactured in shoot tips, embryos, fruit and young leaves.
Auxin promotes the elongation of shoot tissue cells.
Auxin is the hormone involved in geotropic responses (curvature) of
shoot tips to gravity.
In many plants the presence of auxin in the growing tip of the stem
inhibits the growth of lateral buds below the apex. This phenomenon is
called apical dominance.
Removal of the growing tip, and thus the auxin, removes the inhibiting
influence and the lower buds may sprout. That is why ‘pinching out’ the
apical bud stimulates bushier growth in many ornamentals.
Application of artificial hormones containing auxin to cuttings will
stimulate production of roots.
Development of fruit is stimulated by treatment of the flower with auxin.
Treatment prior to pollination of the flower will produce seedless fruit.

Cytokinin
The presence of cytokinin will stimulate the differentiation of vascular
tissue (eg xylem).
Cytokinin stimulates cell division. Buds which are inhibited by apical
dominance may be ‘released’ by cytokinin.
Cytokinin delays the ageing process and senescence, in leaves.

Gibberellin
Gibberellin is an important hormone in stem elongation. Many dwarf
plants are the result of diminished gibberellin in the stem.
Gibberellin also promotes bolting, rapid elongation of the stem. This
occurs naturally in many plants which grow in a rosette form and
produce a long flowering stalk.
It also promotes flowering in some long day plants, and also promotes
pollen development.

Abscisic acid
Abscisic acid stimulates the closure of leaf stomata. When a plant is
under water stress and begins to wilt, abscisic acid is produced in the
leaves and closure of the stomata occurs quite rapidly in response.
Abscisic acid regulates leaf abscission.

Ethylene
Ethylene is a gas made in small quantities in plant tissue which triggers
the fruit ripening process. It is used to bring about the uniform ripening
of bananas. A rotten apple produces ethylene gas which causes nearby
apples to rot. CO2 storage of apples prevents the ripening effect of
ethylene.
Plant Growth Regulators
Activity
Aim To examine the effect of the hormone Gibberellin on the growth of
both dwarf and climbing green peas.

Materials Seeds of dwarf and climbing green peas (12 of each)


Four seedling punnets
Gibberellic Acid (GA)
Labels

Method 1. sow 12 seeds of dwarf peas (six in each of two punnets)


and 12 seeds of climbing peas (six in each of two punnets)
2. label the punnets either D or C (dwarf or climbing) and +GA (GA
added) and –GA (control/no GA added).
3. at regular intervals (every two days) add some GA solution to
the apex and young leaves of the germinated seedlings in
the +GA punnets using an eye dropper (or cotton bud).

Results During the experiment record the following data:


• Length of stem (cm)
• Number of nodes on stem
Record your results in a series of tables like the one in the
example below.
Day zero would be soon after emergence and at the
beginning of the treatments.
Measure all test seedlings and average the data for your
final mean result on each occasion.

Example
D-GA (dwarf control)
Day number 0 3 6 9 12
Number of nodes x x x x x
Length of stem (cm) y y y y y
Av. internode length (cm) z z z z z

Prepare a summary table for all your results, identifying the remaining
punnets.
Illustrate these stem length/average internode length results in graph
form using stem length on the vertical axis and day number on the
horizontal axis.