Available and Unavailable Forms

  • The plant food materials which are taken from the soil by a growing plant must enter it by osmosis through the semi-permeable membranes which constitute the epidermis of the root-hairs, and circulate through the plant either carried in solution in the sap or by osmosis from cell to cell. Hence, they must be in water-soluble form before they can be utilized by plants. Obviously, therefore, only those compounds of these elements in the soil which are soluble in the soil water are available as plant food. The greater proportion of the soil elements are present there in the form of compounds which are so slightly soluble in water as to be unavailable to plants. The processes by which these practically insoluble compounds become gradually changed into soluble forms are chiefly the "weathering" action of air and water (particularly if the latter contains carbonic acid) and the action of the organic acids resulting from decaying animal or vegetable matter or secreted by living plants.

  • There is considerable experimental confirmation of the soundness of this view. The whole photosynthetic process takes place in chlorophyll-containing plant tissues with astonishing rapidity, sugars, and even starch, appearing in the tissues almost immediately after their exposure to light in the presence of carbon dioxide. Hence, any intermediate product, such as formaldehyde, is present in the cell for only very brief periods and in very small amounts. But small amounts of formaldehyde can often be detected in fresh green plant tissues and, as will be pointed out below, the whole process of photosynthesis, proceeding through formaldehyde as an intermediate product, can be successfully duplicated in vitro in the laboratory.