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PLANT ROOTS AND SOIL RELATIONS Plants utilize the plant growth factors in the soil by way of the roots. The density and distribution of roots affect the amount of nutrients and water that roots extract from soils. Perennials, such as oak and alfalfa, do not reestablish a completely new root system each year, which gives them a distinct advantage over annuals such as cotton or wheat. Root growth is also influenced by the soil environment; consequently, root distribution and density are a function of both the kind of plant and the nature of the root environment. A seed is a dormant plant. When placed in moist, warm soil, the seed absorbs water by osmosis and swells. Enzymes activate, and food reserves in the endosperm move to the embryo to be used in germination. As food reserves are exhausted, green leaves develop and photosynthesis begins. The plant now is totally dependent on the sun for energy and on the soil and atmosphere for nutrients and water. In a sense, this is a critical period in the life of a plant because the root system is small. Continued development of the plant requires: (1) the production of food (carbohydrates, etc.) in the shoot via photosynthesis and translocation of food downward for root growth, and (2) the absorption of water and nutrients by roots and the upward translocation of water and nutrients to the shoot for growth. After a root emerges from the seed, the root tip elongates by the division and elongation of cells in the meristematic region of the root cap. After the root cap invades the soil, it continues to elongate and permeate the soil by the continued division and elongation of cells. The passage of the root tip through the soil leaves behind sections of root that mature and become "permanent" residents of the soil. As the plant continues to grow and roots elongate throughout the topsoil, root extension into the subsoil is likely to occur. The subsoil environment will be different in terms of the supply of water, nutrients, oxygen, and in other growth factors. This causes roots at different

locations in the soil (topsoil versus subsoil) to perform different functions or the same functions to varying degrees. For example, most of the nitrogen will probably be absorbed by roots from the topsoil because most of the organic matter is concentrated there, and nitratenitrogen becomes available by the decomposition of organic matter. By contrast, in soils with acid topsoils and alkaline subsoils, deeply penetrating roots encounter a great abundance of calcium in the subsoil. Under these conditions, roots in alkaline subsoil may absorb more calcium than roots in acid topsoil. The topsoil frequently becomes depleted of water in dry periods, whereas an abundance of water still exists in the subsoil. This results in a relatively greater dependence on the subsoil for water and nutrients.

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