Photoperiodism

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In the early 1900s, two American plant physiologists, Wightman W. Garner and Henry A. Allard, became curious about a tobacco plant growing at a research center in Beltsville, Maryland. The plant grew 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) tall during the summer but failed to flower in August when the normal-sized tobacco plants flowered. They brought the giant plant into a greenhouse for protection during the winter and were surprised when it flowered in December.

Garner and Allard decided to conduct some experiments with the tobacco plants. If the plants were started in pots in the fall in a greenhouse, they grew only about a meter (3 feet) tall before flowering. They wondered what would happen if they kept the tobacco plants, as well as some soybean seedlings that would not bloom in Beltsville before September, in complete darkness from 4 P.M. until 9 A.M., thereby allowing them only 7 hours of daylight.

Photoperiodism Plants
Figure 11.20 Photoperiodism. The poinsettia with red bracts received less than 8.5 hours of light per day. The green poinsettias received more than 10 hours of light per day and did not flower. (© Sylvan Wittwer/Visuals Unlimited)

They found that all the plants flowered, and further investigations showed that the length of day (actually the length of the night) was directly related to the onset of flowering in many plants. They published the results of their investigations in 1920 and later called the phenomenon they had discovered photoperiodism (Fig. 11.20).

The critical length of day (i.e., the maximum or minimum length of day) for the initiation of flowering is often about 12 to 14 hours, although it can vary considerably. Plants that will not flower unless the day length is shorter than the critical length (e.g., in the fall or spring) are called short-day plants. They include asters, chrysanthemums, dahlias, goldenrods, poinsettias, ragweeds, sorghums, salvias, strawberries, and violets. Plants that will not flower unless periods of light are longer than the critical length are called long-day plants. These include garden beets, larkspur, lettuce, potatoes, spinach, and wheat. Such plants usually flower in the summer but will also flower when left under continuous artificial illumination. Accordingly, leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, need to be harvested in the spring and grown again in the fall in temperate latitudes if bolting (producing flowering stalks) is to be avoided. Potato breeders in the United States grow their plants in northern states where the long summer days initiate flowering, but since the potatoes themselves are produced independently of flowering, the plants may be grown for crop purposes at any latitude where other conditions are favorable.

Indian grass and several other grasses have two critical photoperiods; they will not flower if the days are too short, and they also will not flower if the days are too long. Such species are referred to as intermediate-day plants. Other plants, particularly those of tropical origin, will flower under any length of day, providing, of course, they have received

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the minimum amount of light necessary for normal growth. Such plants are called day-neutral plants and include garden beans, calendulas, carnations, cyclamens, cotton, nasturtiums, roses, snapdragons, sunflowers, and tomatoes, as well as many common weeds, such as dandelions.

With some plants, small differences in day length may be critically important. Some varieties of soybeans, for example, will not flower when days are 14 hours long but will flower if the day length is increased to 14 1/2 hours. This difference could amount to less than 320 kilometers (200 miles) of latitude, with certain varieties grown in the southern states not producing fruit in the northern states, and vice versa.

Commercial florists and nursery owners have made extensive use of photoperiods, manipulating with artificial light the flowering times of poinsettias, some lilies, and other plants so as to have them flower at times of the biggest demand, such as Christmas or Mother's Day. The light intensities used to lengthen the days artificially can be very low—often less than 2 |mols per square meter per second (i.e., one-thousandth the intensity of full sunlight)—and can come from incandescent bulbs, which have more red wavelengths than fluorescent lamps and therefore have more effect on phytochromes, which are involved in photoperi-odism and are discussed in the next section, "Phytochromes and Cryptochromes."

A number of vegetative activities of plants are also affected by photoperiods. In the shortening days of the fall, for example, many woody plants will begin undergoing the changes that lead to the dormancy of buds, regardless of whether or not "Indian summer" temperatures may be prevailing. In the spring, certain seeds respond to photoperiods in their germination, both long-day and short-day species having been discovered. Plants that produce tubers (e.g., Jerusalem artichoke) may develop them only under short-day conditions, even though they are long-day plants with respect to flowering. Usually, these photoperiodically controlled responses are valuable to the plants in that they prepare them for changes in the seasons and thus ensure their survival and perpetuation.

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Responses

  • Girmay Fikru
    Why are day neutral plants tropical in origin?
    8 years ago

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