Essential Role Of Phosphorus (P) In Plants

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient both as a part of several key plant structure compounds and as a catalyst in the conversion of numerous key biochemical reactions in plants. Phosphorus is noted especially for its role in capturing and converting the sun’s energy into useful plant compounds. The two examples that follow illustrate how vital phosphorus nutrition is to normal plant development and production. Phosphorus is a vital component of DNA, the genetic "memory unit" of all living things. It is also a component of RNA, the compound that reads the DNA genetic code to build proteins and other compounds essential for plant structure, seed yield, and genetic transfer. The structures of both DNA and RNA are linked together by phosphorus bonds.
Phosphorus is a vital component of ATP, the "energy unit" of plants. ATP forms during photosynthesis, has phosphorus in its structure, and processes from the beginning of seedling growth through to the formation of grain and maturity Thus phosphorus is essential for the general health and vigor of all plants. Some specific growth factors that have been associated with phosphorus are: stimulated root development, increased stalk and stem strength, improved flower formation and seed production, more uniform and earlier crop maturity, increased nitrogen N-fixing capacity of legumes, improvements in crop quality, and increased resistance to plant diseases.\


Phosphorus deficiency

Phosphorus deficiency is more difficult to diagnose than a deficiency of nitrogen or potassium. Crops usually display no obvious symptoms of phosphorus deficiency, other than a general stunting of the plant during early growth, and by the time a visual deficiency is recognized it may be too late to correct in annual crops. Some crops, such as corn, tend to show an abnormal discoloration when phosphorus is deficient. The plants are usually dark bluish-green in color with leaves and stem becoming purplish. The degree of purple is influenced by the genetic makeup of the plant, some hybrids showing much greater discoloration than others. The purplish color is due to accumulation of sugars which favors the synthesis of anthocyanin (a purplish colored pigment) that occurs in the leaves of the plant. Phosphorus is highly mobile in plants and when deficient it may be translocated from old plant tissue to young actively growing areas. Consequently, early vegetative responses to phosphorus are often observed. As a plant matures, phosphorus is translocated into the fruiting areas of the plant where high energy requirements are needed for the formation of seeds and fruit. Phosphorus deficiencies late in the growing season affect both seed development and normal crop maturity. The percentage of the total amount of each nutrient taken up is higher for phosphorus late in the growing season than for either nitrogen or potassium.


Soil Phosphorus Availability
Soluble phosphorus, either from fertilizer or natural weathering, reacts with clay, iron, and
aluminum compounds in the soil and is converted readily to less available forms by the process of phosphorus fixation. Because of these fixation processes, phosphorus moves very little in most soils (less than an inch in most soils), stays close to its place of origin, and crops seldom absorb more than 20 percent of fertilizer phosphorus during the first cropping season after application. As a result, little soil phosphorus is lost by leaching. This fixed, residual phosphorus remains in the rooting zone and will be slowly available to succeeding crops. Soil erosion and crop removal are the significant ways soil phosphorus is lost.