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One of three primary nutrients, phosphorus (P) is essential for plant growth, and a plant must access it to complete its normal production cycle. Plants absorb P from the soil as primary and secondary orthophosphates (H2PO4- and HPO42-).

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The highest levels of P in young plants are found in tissue at the growing point. As crops mature, most P moves into the seeds, fruit, or both.

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Under P deficiency, some crops, such as corn, tend to show abnormal discoloration.

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Phosphorus is noted especially for its role in capturing and converting the sun's energy into useful plant compounds.

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Phosphorus promotes root development and early seedling growth

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Research associates specific growth factors with P: stimulated root development, increased stalk and stem strength, and improved flower formation and seed production.

Dig Deeper: Fertilizer Use Guide

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient both as a part of several key plant structure compounds and as a catalyst in the conversion of numerous key biochemical reactions in plants. Phosphorus is noted especially for its role in capturing and converting the sun's energy into useful plant compounds.

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Deficiency Symptoms

Symptoms of deficiency can vary across crop species, but similarities exist for how nutrient insufficiency impacts plant tissue color and appearance. Nutrient deficiencies are commonly associated with the physical location on the plant (i.e., whether the symptoms are primarily observed on older versus newly formed plant tissue), but these symptoms can spread as the severity of the deficiency progresses.

All photos are provided courtesy of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) and its IPNI Crop Nutrient Deficiency Image Collection. The photos above are a sample of a greater collection, which provides a comprehensive sampling of hundreds of classic cases of crop deficiency from research plots and farm fields located around the world. For access to the full collection, you can visit IPNI's website.