Plant Scientists Now Paying
Attention To Silicon's
Silicon, of quintessential importance to
semiconductors, is considered unessential for
plant function. Nevertheless, the element is
absorbed as Si(OH)4 from soil in amounts several
times higher than those of other essential
macronutrients in certain plant species: For
example, the uptake of silicon in rice is about
108% greater than the uptake of nitrogen.
Silicon can benefit plant growth through
greater yields (rice and cucumber) or sugar
content (sugarcane). Silicon also can be very
useful when these plants are under stress.
The element may enhance soil fertility, improve
soil physical properties, improve disease and pest
resistance, increase photosynthesis, regulate
evapotranspiration, increase tolerance to toxic
elements such as iron and manganese and reduce
"Until now, this element has always befuddled
people because plant nutritionists have never
considered it essential," said Lawrence Datnoff,
professor of plant pathology with the University
of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural
Datnoff said new research at the UF/IFAS
Everglades Research and Education Center (REC) in
Belle Glade shows this element can boost crop
yields, reduce the need for expensive fungicides
and improve plant resistance to some diseases.
These and other research findings will be
discussed by 22 scientists from around the world
at the Silicon in Agriculture Conference Sept.
26-30 at the Lago Mar Resort Hotel in Fort
The program includes speakers from Australia,
Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Japan, Korea,
Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa and
the United States.
The conference is being organized by Datnoff,
George Snyder, distinguished professor of soil
science at the Everglades REC, and Gaspar
Korndorfer, professor of soil science at the
Universidade Federal de Uberlandia in Brazil.
Sponsors include UF/IFAS, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Calcium Silicate Corp., The PQ Corp.,
and Albright and Wilson.
Datnoff said silicon has been used successfully
in Florida on rice and sugarcane for many years,
and it will improve production on other crops
ranging from citrus and strawberries to tomatoes
"For me, as a plant pathologist, to see what
silicon does for disease control is just
phenomenal," he said. "It doesn't just control one
disease, it controls several diseases. You can
better manage your fungicide applications, reduce
the number of applications or maybe eliminate them
Datnoff and other researchers at the Everglades
REC have demonstrated that the residual effects of
this element one year later provide effective
disease control comparable to the application of
"We also found this element could enhance
control of the two most important rice diseases in
the world -- blast and sheath blight," he said.
"In the case of rice cultivars that are partially
resistant to these diseases, the use of silicon
makes them completely resistant."
Other faculty at the Everglades REC working
with Datnoff and Snyder are Jose Alvarez,
professor of agricultural economics, and
Christopher Deren, professor of agronomy/breeding.
Thomas Kucharek, professor of plant pathology at
UF in Gainesville, is also working with the
Soil scientists and plant pathologists from
Brazil, Colombia, India and Russia are working
with the UF/IFAS research team, as well.