Skip to main content
Biology LibreTexts

4.3: Nutrition and Soils

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    Cucurbitaceae is a family of plants first cultivated in Mesoamerica, although several species are native to North America (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). The family includes many edible species, such as squash and pumpkin, as well as inedible gourds. In order to grow and develop into mature, fruit-bearing plants, many requirements must be met and events must be coordinated. Seeds must germinate under the right conditions in the soil; therefore, temperature, moisture, and soil quality are important factors that play a role in germination and seedling development. Soil quality and climate are significant to plant distribution and growth. The young seedling will eventually grow into a mature plant, and the roots will absorb nutrients and water from the soil. At the same time, the aboveground parts of the plant will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use energy from sunlight to produce organic compounds through photosynthesis. This chapter will explore the complex dynamics between plants and soils.

    Dark green seedling with three leaves growing on a plot of dark-brown soil (left) and a variety of red, orange, green and yellow squashes (right)
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): For this (a) squash seedling (Cucurbita maxima) to develop into a mature plant bearing its (b) fruit, numerous nutritional requirements must be met. (credit a: modification of work by Julian Colton; credit b: modification of work by "Wildfeuer"/Wikimedia Commons)

    • 4.3.1: Essential Elements
      Plants require essential elements to grow in large quantities (macronutrients) or small quantities (micronutrients). These form biological macromolelcules, maintain ion balance, aid in enzyme function, and support cell wall structure. Plants display characteristic nutrient deficiencies according to which nutrient they lack.
    • 4.3.2: Soils
      Soil is the outer loose layer that covers the surface of Earth. Soil quality is a major determinant, along with climate, of plant distribution and growth. Soil quality depends not only on the chemical composition of the soil, but also the topography (regional surface features) and the presence of living organisms. In agriculture, the history of the soil, such as the cultivating practices and previous crops, modify the characteristics and fertility of that soil.
    • 4.3.3: Nutrient Cycles
      Nutrient cycles describe how elements used by organisms move among the air, water, soil, rocks, and the organisms themselves. The carbon cycle involves photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Most of the nitrogen on Earth is in the form of nitrogen gas in the atmosphere, and plants rely on nitrogen-fixing bacteria to convert usable forms. In the phosphorus cycle, phosphates enter the soil and water through weathering of rocks. Much phosphate is trapped in ocean sediments.
    • 4.3.4: Chapter Summary


    Curated and authored by Melissa Ha using 31.0 Prelude to Soil and Plant Nutrition from Biology 2e by OpenStax (CC-BY). Access for free at

    Thumbnail image: A root nodule of broad bean (Vicia faba), which hosts symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria (Rhizobium). Nitrogen fixation converts gaseous nitrogen into ammonium, which is available in the soil to plants. Image by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, (CC-BY).

    This page titled 4.3: Nutrition and Soils is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha, Maria Morrow, & Kammy Algiers (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .