Phosphorus sources and availability modify growth and distribution of root clusters and nodules of native Australian legumes


Correspondence: T. L. Bell. E-mail:


A variety of native Western Australian legumes produced root clusters in sand culture confirming field and published observations. In general, these legumes grew equally well when supplied with organic or inorganic sources of phosphorus. The nitrogen content of shoots and roots varied little among treatments for all species, however, phosphorus content was always greater in plants supplied with inositol-P. The plasticity of root growth in response to localized placement of organic and inorganic sources of phosphorus was demonstrated using a simple ‘split root’ technique. Total root dry weight was, on average, more than doubled in P-amended sand when compared with non-amended sand. Root clusters tended to be produced in areas of relatively high phosphorus concentration and nodules in areas of low phosphorus concentration. Levels of phosphorus in lateral roots grown in P-amended sand were significantly different from lateral roots grown in the corresponding non-amended sand. Growth increases averaging 70% for white sand to over 100% for yellow sand indicated a large degree of ‘plasticity’ in roots under conditions of heterogeneous supply of phosphorus. Spatially exclusive development of organs for the acquisition of nutrients is discussed in relation to requirements for carbon in organ production and maintenance.