National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



JOURNAL OF PLANT NUTRITION, 23(10), 1449-1470 (2000)


U.S. Government Work


Due to the discrepancy in metabolic sodium (Na) requirements between plants and animals, cycling of Na between humans and plants is limited and critical to the proper functioning of bio-regenerative life support systems, being considered for long-term human habitats in space (e.g., Martian bases). This study was conducted to determine the effects of limited potassium (K) on growth, Na uptake, photosynthesis, ionic partitioning, and water relations of red-beet (Beta vulgaris L. ssp. vulgaris) under moderate Na-saline conditions. Two cultivars, Klein Bol, and Ruby Queen were grown for 42 days in a growth chamber using a re-circulating nutrient film technique where the supplied K levels were 5.0, 1.25, 0.25, and 0.10 mM in a modified halfstrength Hoagland solution salinized with 50 mM NaCl. Reducing K levels from 5.0 to 0.10 mM quadrupled the Na uptake, and lamina Na levels reached -20 g kg-1 dwt. Lamina K levels decreased from -60 g kg-1 dwt at 5.0 mM K to -4.0 g kg-1 dwt at 0.10 mM K. Ruby Queen and Klein Bol responded differently to these changes in Na and K status. Klein Bol showed a linear decline in dry matter production with a decrease in available K, whereas for cv. Ruby Queen, growth was stimulated at 1.25 mM K and relatively insensitive to a further decreases of K down to 0.10 mM. Leaf glycinebetaine levels showed no significant response to the changing K treatments. Leaf relative water content and osmotic potential were significantly higher for both cultivars at low-K treatments. Leaf chlorophyll levels were significantly decreased at low-K treatments, but leaf photosynthetic rates showed no significant difference. No substantial changes were observed in the total cation concentration of plant tissues despite major shifts in the relative Na and K uptake at various K levels. Sodium accounted for 90% of the total cation uptake at the low K levels, and thus Na was likely replacing K in osmotic functions without negatively affecting the plant water status, or growth. Our results also suggest that cv. Ruby Queen can tolerate a much higher Na tissue concentration than cv. Klein Bol before there is any growth reduction.