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What types of stress can be experienced by plants? 

Plant stress
Written by: Maarten Casteleijn | Last update: 03-09-2020

Stress is common for humans and it is not perceived to be healthy. But does the same apply to plants? When crops experience stress, several factors can be of influence. But what types of stress can be experienced by plants and how can these types be recognized? These are important questions, so that the plant can be helped to be as resistant as possible against all types of stress. 

What is plant stress?

Plants can experience stress due to several factors. Factors that are believed to result in a worsened plant, flower or fruit growth and a smaller chance of plant survival. But can it be stated that stress is bad for plants? 

According to plant resistance specialist Maarten Casteleijn, this cannot be said. “When a plant is exposed to stress, it will spend all of its energy on solving the ‘problem’. One of the things that plant energy will be spent on, is the production of secondary metabolites, which help preventing stress. Therefore, it cannot be stated stress is bad for plants. What is important, is that the plant uses a part of its energy when stress is experienced.”

When plants encounter stress, it cannot be stated that that visual damage is visible instantly. Though, it is important to prevent stress as much as possible, by having knowledge about what kind of stress types can be experienced by plants. But also, how plant stress can be recognized? 

How is plant stress shown?

Different reactions to stress can be seen. This might vary from cultivation strategy to even the type of stress. Moreover, it is dependent on the plant’s natural resistance. The better the resistance, the more components are produced by the plants, which can be used for defending stress. 
An example is, when the plant is pricked by aphids. If this is the case, and the plant has a high resistance, the salicylic acid route is switched on. Due to the ‘activation’ of this element in the crop, the plant is made more unattractive to aphids. Besides the entrance of an ‘’intruder’’ to the plant can be stopped with salicylic acid, natural enemies are warned. This because the scent that is produced by the plant, lets the natural enemies know that the plant needs help. 

What types of stress exist?

  • Biological stress
    Biological stress is caused by living organisms. Different pathogens, such as molds, bacteria and viruses are involved in biological stress. Both aboveground and underground biological stress can be experienced, due to aphids and mildew. Underground, root-knot nematodes or fusarium could result in plant stress.
  • Abiotic stress
    Unlike biological stress, abiotic stress is caused by abiotic factors, which means ‘non-living’ factors. Wind, too much light and a high concentration of salt are common examples. Thus, abiotic stress can be caused aboveground as well as underground. Aboveground stress can be caused by an excess amount of radiation, heat or drought. An underground factor with similar effect, is a high concentration of sodium, but also repotting the plant. When repotting a plant, damage to the roots could be a result.

How can biological stress be prevented?

  • Natural enemies
    Several natural enemies can be used, in order to maintain a good balance within the cultivation.
  • Priming of the plant
    Priming can be done by treating the plant with a special ‘priming’ product. Priming can be explained as preparing a plant for a possible ‘’attack’’. Because of this, the plant’s reaction is fastened when the plant is e.g. pricked by an aphid. 
  • Soil life
    Soil life is believed to play an important role for plants. Symbiosis or a mutualistic cooperation is created by micro and macro organisms, and the plant. Due to this, extra protection against harmful molds, bacteria and other micro organisms. Mycorrhiza, rhizobacterie and Trichoderma are examples of micro organisms with a positive effect on the plant’s resistance.

How can abiotic stress be prevented?

  • Environment
    Because abiotic stress is closely linked to factors in the crop’s environment, it is recommended to always control the surroundings as much as possible. However, it could happen that this cannot be done sufficiently. 
  • Optimal nutrition
    Basically, a plant’s resistance against stress can be made right by providing the right and complete nutrition.
  • Good start
    In order to get the plant as strong as possible, it is advised to give products that improve the plant’s resistance from the start of the cultivation. This because a plant’s resistance is better when the roots have had enough support to develop properly. 
  • Plant resistance
    Besides the fact that correct fertilizers should be given to plants, another “extra” can be provided. This can be done with e.g. silicon, salicylic acid, amino acids, etc. Due to these elements, the plant resistance will be improved.  

What do plant suffer most from? Biological or abiotic stress?

It cannot be said with certainty what type of stress the plant suffers most from. This is totally dependent on the type of crop in which the stress is experienced. However, specific types of stress are seen more in certain cultivations. 

Abiotic stress factors are found more in crops that are cultivated outside, because these crops are subject to weather conditions.

On the other hand, the climate in covered cultivations is controlled better, because of which the risk for abiotic stress is lowered. However, a higher chance for biological stress is there in covered cultivations. 

Questions about plant stress? 

Do you have questions about plant stress, how it can be recognized or which types of stress form a threat to your crop? Please contact our specialist Maarten Casteleijn by filling in the form below. We will contact as soon as possible.....

Maarten Casteleijn About Maarten Casteleijn

Maarten Casteleijn is a product specialist in plant resistance at Royal Brinkman. In addition to experience in horticulture, he also has experience in teaching and coordinating research in the medical sector. By combining his work experiences, he can look at a problem with different perspectives and think out of the box. Maarten says that his passion is reflected in his work experience: receiving and sharing knowledge. "I have a broad interest in innovation and sustainability. Together with the grower, I want to achieve a final zero discharge by increasing plant resilience". 

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