Tuesday, April 23, 2024
General Agriculture

Plant Growth and Measurements Guide

Plant growth or growth in a plant is the outcome of cell division, enlargement of the new cells and their differentiation into different types of plant tissues. These processes of growth are accompanied by either a permanent change in size (usually an increase in length or volume) and or an increase in the dry weight of the growing parts.

In plants, growth is confined only to meristems. The extreme apices of root and shoot, for instance are occupied by primary meristems while in their older parts, secondary meristems (i.e., cambia) give rise to additional vascular tissues and the protective layers of cork cells.

The activity of each meristem influences the activity of the other meristems especially those near to it, giving rise to what is called as growth correlations. For instance, while the main apical shoot meristem is active it retards the activity of more recently initiated lateral bud meristems, a phenomenon usually referred to as ‘apical dominance’.

Growth can be determinate when an organ or part or whole organism reaches a certain size and then stops growing or indeterminate when cells continue to divide indefinitely. Plants in general have indeterminate growth.

Differentiation is the process in which generalized cells specialize into morphologically and physiologically different cells.

Since all the cells produced by division in the meristems have the same genetic make-up, differentiation is a function of which particular genes are either expressed or suppressed.

The kind of cell that ultimately develops also is a result of its location: Root cells don’t form in developing flowers, for example, nor do petals form on roots.

Techniques/Approaches to Measuring Plant Growth

To capture enough data on the overall wellbeing of your plants, we recommend that you record at least one final weight measure, one measure of root, and all measurements that pertain to the type of plant you are using.

Weighing Plants : Fresh vs. Dry Weight

Measuring Fresh Weight: While you can technically measure the fresh weight of plants without harming them, the simple act of removing a plant from its growing “medium” can cause trauma and affect the ongoing growth rate and thus your experiment.

Measuring the fresh weight of plants is tricky and should probably be saved as a final measure of growth at the end of the experiment. Here is the process for measuring fresh weight:

Remove plants from soil and wash off any loose soil.

Blot plants gently with soft paper towel to remove any free surface moisture.

Plant Growth and Measurements Guide

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Weigh immediately (plants have a high composition of water, so waiting to weigh them may lead to some drying and therefore produce inaccurate data).

1. Measuring Dry Weight

Since plants have a high composition of water and the level of water in a plant will depend on the amount of water in its environment (which is very difficult to control), using dry weight as a measure of plant growth tends to be more reliable. You can only capture this data once as a final measure at the conclusion of your experiment.

Remove the plants from the soil and wash off any loose soil.

Blot the plants removing any free surface moisture.

Dry the plants in an oven set to low heat (100° F) overnight.

Let the plants cool in a dry environment (a Ziploc bag will keep moisture out) – in a humid environment the plant tissue will take up water. Once the plants have cooled, weigh them on a scale.

Plants contain mostly water, so make sure you have a scale that goes down to milligrams since a dry plant will not weight very much.

2. Root Mass

Root mass is recommended as a final measurement as the plant must be removed from its growing medium in order to capture accurate data. There are quite a few different methods for measuring root mass depending on the type and structure of the roots.

3. Grid Intersect Technique

Remove the plant from the soil.

If you are working with thin or light roots, you may want to dye the roots using an acidic stain.

Lay the roots on a grid pattern and count the number of times the roots intersect the grid.

Trace the roots on paper, measure each of the tracings, and calculate root length from the tracings.

Count the number of roots.

Measure the diameter of the root. This is especially useful for root vegetables such as beets, carrots, potatoes, etc. that have a large root.

4. Root Shoot Ratio

Roots allow a plant to absorb water and nutrients from the surrounding soil, and a healthy root system is key to a healthy plant. The root: shoot ratio is one measure to help you assess the overall health of your plants.

Your control group of plants will provide you with a “normal” root: shoot ratio for each of your plant types, any changes from this normal level (either up or down) would be an indication of a change in the overall health of your plant.

It is important to combine the data from the root: shoot ratio with data from observations to get an accurate understanding of what is happening with your plants.

For example, an increase in root: shoot ratio could be an indication of a healthier plant, provided the increase came from greater root size and not from a decrease in shoot weight. To measure the root: shoot ratio:

Remove the plants from soil and wash off any loose soil.

Blot the plants removing any free surface moisture.

Dry the plants in an oven set to low heat (100° F) overnight.

Let the plants cool in a dry environment (a Ziploc bag will keep moisture out) – in a humid environment the tissue will take up water. Once the plants have cooled weigh them on a scale.

Separate the root from the top (cut at soil line).

Separately weigh and record the root and top for each plant. (Dry weight for roots/dry weight for top of plant = root/shoot ratio)

The root/shoot ratio can be calculated for each treatment.

Plants contain mostly water, so make sure you have a scale that goes down to milligrams since a dry plant will not weight very much.

5. Measurement by Observation

There are many different features of a plant that can be measured through observations to determine the extent of plant growth/health.

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The following table describes some of the measures that you can make and also recommends how frequently you should make these observations during the course of your experiment.

MeasurementProcedureFrequency of Measurement
When starting with seedsFirst CotyledonRecord the number of days from planting to the emergence of the first cotyledon (“seed leave(s)” that are the first to emerge from the ground).Once

Percentage of seeds that germinateCalculate the percentage of seeds that germinated under each of the variables in your experiment.Once
When starting with young plantsPlant heightMeasure the height of the main plant from the border of the container to the top of the main plant stem. Note: you do not want to measure from the top of the soil, as the soil may condense with watering over time.Every 2-3 days

Number of leaves (indicates a plant’s physiological age)Counting Leaves: Count and record the number of leaves on each plant.
Count every visible leaf on the plant, including the tips of new leaves just beginning to emerge. You may want to place the plant over some graph paper to avoid counting errors.
Every 2-3 days

Surface area of leavesMethod 1: Trace the leaves on graph paper and count the squares covered to give you an estimate of the surface area for each leaf. Repeat this for each leaf on a plant and for each plant in your experiment.

Method 2: Trace out each leaf on paper. Make sure to use the same type of paper every time and make sure that the paper is not wet.
Cut out the leaf tracings and weigh them. Weigh the cutouts and divide the total weight by the number of leaves to give you the average leaf area for each plant. Repeat this for each of the plants in your experiment.

Method 3: Digital image analysis: Using a digital camera capture an image of a plant. Using special software, analyze the surface area of the leaves.
Every 2-3 days

Plant colorRecord any observations on changes or differences in plant color.Every 2-3 days

In summary, as plants grow and develop they need to be monitored through regular measurements of growth parameters. This will assist in knowing the contributions of the various parameters to the final yield of the plant.

Measurement of plant growth parameters also assist in the management of plants through reviews of management practices that will improve on their performances.

Growth can be determinate or indeterminate. As cells produce by divisions in the meristems, differentiation into various tissues and organs takes place as controlled by the genetic makeup of the plant. These tissues and organs become measureable parameters of plant growth leading to low or increased yields.

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Do you have any question, suggestion or other contributions? kindly use the comment box provided below for all your contributions. You are also encouraged to please kindly share this article with others you feel can benefit from this information if found useful enough as we may not be able to reach everyone at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing!


Benadine Nonye is an agricultural consultant and a writer with over 12 years of professional experience in the agriculture industry. - National Diploma in Agricultural Technology - Bachelor's Degree in Agricultural Science - Master's Degree in Science Education - PhD Student in Agricultural Economics and Environmental Policy... Visit My Websites On: 1. Agric4Profits.com - Your Comprehensive Practical Agricultural Knowledge and Farmer’s Guide Website! 2. WealthinWastes.com - For Effective Environmental Management through Proper Waste Management and Recycling Practices! Join Me On: Twitter: @benadinenonye - Instagram: benadinenonye - LinkedIn: benadinenonye - YouTube: Agric4Profits TV and WealthInWastes TV - Pinterest: BenadineNonye4u - Facebook: BenadineNonye

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