The element silicon, known to be beneficial to many plants, is being evaluated for advantageous effects on North Florida citrus and blackberries. Horticulturist Muhammad Shahid discussed the benefits of Earth’s second-most-abundant element (after oxygen) during a recent Cold-Tolerant Citrus Production Workshop in Perry, Florida. Shahid is a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences assistant professor at the North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) in Quincy.
Silicon is being investigated for its role in aiding plant growth and development, fruit yield and quality, resistance to pest and disease attack, and tolerance to abiotic stresses. A large-scale on-farm project is also investigating the element’s ability to improve heat and cold tolerance in citrus.
According to Shahid, silicon is already known to help control brown spot and green mold in citrus.
Shahid said the element is considered beneficial for plants rather than essential. Reasons he gave for supplementing plants in general with this element included improvement in:
- Fruit size and number
- Postharvest life
- Resistance to plant pathogens
- Tolerance to abiotic stress
The element has been shown to improve shelf life in some agricultural products. Shahid said it increases fruit firmness, reduces cracking and pitting, increases skin hardiness, and reduces deterioration during cold storage.
A slide in Shahid’s presentation made several important points about disease control :
- As silicon concentration increases in plant tissues, plant disease suppression dramatically improves.
- For disease suppression, silicon supply should be continuous.
- Silicon may augment susceptible or partial resistance to complete resistance.
- Silicon may suppress plant disease as effectively as fungicide and may be well suited for adding in integrated pest management strategies.
- Identification of good silicon sources and their optimal dosages for effective pest and disease control in different crops is needed.
- The element has potential for integration with biological control for ecologically sustainable pest and disease management.
- Clearly, more research is needed.
Learn more about other citrus research projects taking place at NFREC.
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