Studies of the micronutrients zinc, manganese and silicon in cucumbers (Cucumis sativus)
Zinc and manganese have long been considered as essential micronutrients to plant growth, yet the interactions of the two nutrients on growth and development of plants have not been elucidated in their entirety. Silicon is not classed as an essential element, but has been found to improve growth of a number of crops, particularly of the Poaceae family. A simple water culture hydroponic system was developed to monitor the growth and development of a fruit crop (Cucumber – Cucumis sativus) under deficient, adequate and excessive applications of zinc and manganese. Plant growth parameters were monitored including leaf growth, plant height, plant fresh and dry mass, yield, fruit size and fruit mass. Nutrient uptake was also measured using inductively coupled plasma emission spectroscopy, whilst chlorophyll was determined spectrophotometrically. Plant nutrient analyses were also conducted using inductively coupled plasma emission spectroscopy. Silicon was found to have a beneficial effect on the growth of cucumbers and was incorporated as a treatment for this crop along with zinc and manganese since foliar silicon sprays were able to correct the occurrence of mineral deficiency symptoms. Along with plant growth measurements, nutrient uptake, plant nutrient analysis and chlorophyll determination, plant tissue was also analysed using transmission electron microscopy to establish the impact of silicon applications on the cell ultra-structure of cucumbers. Electron micrographs showed an increased presence of plasmodesmata in treatments excluding silicon. Such increased plasmodesmata connections under silicon deficient conditions could increase translocation of cell solutes due to reduced cell longevity. Results also confirmed the essentiality of zinc and manganese on plant growth and development as typical deficiency symptoms were observed. Typical toxicity symptoms were also recorded. Rates of uptake of nutrients corresponded with leaf growth and enlargement as well as yield. The chlorophyll concentration was not a clear indicator of nutrient application level. Typically, manganese and zinc interacted with iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium, affecting their uptake into the plant dependent on the level of manganese and zinc applied. Although non-essential, silicon improved plant growth, but had neither a relationship with the other nutrients evaluated nor affected the physical growth and development of the plants. Manganese and zinc, as essential to plant growth and development, affect the visual appearance of the plant as well as affect the plant biochemically due to their involvement in many growth and development processes.