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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Jan 4; 91(1): 11–17.

The anomaly of silicon in plant biology.


Silicon is the second most abundant element in soils, the mineral substrate for most of the world's plant life. The soil water, or the "soil solution," contains silicon, mainly as silicic acid, H4SiO4, at 0.1-0.6 mM--concentrations on the order of those of potassium, calcium, and other major plant nutrients, and well in excess of those of phosphate. Silicon is readily absorbed so that terrestrial plants contain it in appreciable concentrations, ranging from a fraction of 1% of the dry matter to several percent, and in some plants to 10% or even higher. In spite of this prominence of silicon as a mineral constituent of plants, it is not counted among the elements defined as "essential," or nutrients, for any terrestrial higher plants except members of the Equisitaceae. For that reason it is not included in the formulation of any of the commonly used nutrient solutions. The plant physiologist's solution-cultured plants are thus anomalous, containing only what silicon is derived as a contaminant of their environment. Ample evidence is presented that silicon, when readily available to plants, plays a large role in their growth, mineral nutrition, mechanical strength, and resistance to fungal diseases, herbivory, and adverse chemical conditions of the medium. Plants grown in conventional nutrient solutions are thus to an extent experimental artifacts. Omission of silicon from solution cultures may lead to distorted results in experiments on inorganic plant nutrition, growth and development, and responses to environmental stress.

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