Macronutrients & Micronutrients in Plants

Macronutrients & Micronutrients in Plants
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  • 1:04 What Are Macronutrients?
  • 3:27 What Are Micronutrients?
  • 4:02 Plant Deficiency Disorders
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Did you know that plants have to balance their nutrition with a healthy dose of macronutrients and micronutrients? Continue reading to learn about these two different types of nutrients. Discover what happens if plants are lacking some of these nutrients.

The Importance of Plant Nutrition

You've certainly heard the phrase 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away.' And perhaps you've been told to make sure your plate looks colorful with veggies. Essential nutrients in our diet contribute to a properly functioning and healthy body. Plants follow a similar approach. In addition to needing light and water to survive, they rely on a balance of essential elements to sustain their growth.

Does the word 'element' sound familiar? In chemistry, an element is a substance that can't be broken down any further using chemical methods. Plants use elements for three primary purposes:

  • to complete their life cycle
  • to help perform specific functions
  • for structural support and cell growth

There are 20 essential elements that are classified as essential nutrients. Scientists have grouped these elements into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Let's take a closer look at each.

What Are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients are nutrients that are required in larger amounts by plants and other living organisms. The following elements are categorized as macronutrients: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium. Let's take a look at a few of these macronutrients in further detail.

You might be familiar with the first element on the list: carbon. Carbon is the essential element for all organic compounds. If you dried a plant, you would find that roughly 40-50% of its mass would be made of carbon. Carbon is also required to make compounds called macromolecules. Macromolecules, including carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins, are very large molecules that are important for different biological processes. Plants use each type of macromolecule for a specific function. Take, for example, carbohydrates; plant cells use carbohydrates for energy storage and structural support.

Next up is oxygen. It's well known that plants produce oxygen. Did you know they also need it to survive? When plants perform cellular respiration, they rely on this essential nutrient to get the job done. Oxygen also can be used to help plants store energy in the form of ATP.

Now to phosphorous. Photosynthesis is a process used by plants to convert light energy into usable chemical compounds. Plants use phosphorus to help carry out photosynthesis, which produces macromolecules and other plant compounds. Phosphorus is also used to create ATP, the energy unit of plants, during photosynthesis.

Don't forget potassium! Plants need a water regulator to control the amount of water that enters plant cells. They rely on the presence of potassium to help control both the uptake and loss of water in a plant.

The last macronutrients we'll cover are nitrogen and magnesium. If you look at chlorophyll, you'll find both these elements in its structure. Chlorophyll is light-absorbing pigment that plays a vital role in supplying plant energy through photosynthesis. You can thank chlorophyll for the green color you see in plants. Nitrogen also plays a role in vitamin and protein synthesis.

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