The growth of two provenances of Pinus sylvestris L. were compared with two provenances of Picea abies (L.) Karst. and with Pinus contorta Dougl. when grown in solution cultures with low nutrient concentrations. Nitrogen was added at different exponentially increasing rates, and the other nutrients were added at a rate high enough to ensure free access of them to the seedlings.
During an initial period of the culture (a lag phase), when the internal nutrient status was changing from optimum to the level of the treatment, deficiency symptoms appeared. The needles yellowed and the root/shoot ratio increased. The initial phase was followed by a period of exponential growth and steady-state nutrition. The needles turned green again, and the root/shoot ratio stabilized at a level characteristic of the treatment. These patterns were the same as previously reported for other tree species.
The relative growth rate during exponential growth was numerically closely equal to the relative nitrogen addition rate. The maximum relative growth rates were about 6 to 7.5% dry weight increase day-1. This is a much lower maximum than for broad-leaved species (about 20 to 30% day-1) under similar growth conditions.
The internal nitrogen concentrations of the seedlings and the relative growth rates were stable during the exponential period. Close linear relationships were found between these parameters and the relative addition rate up to maximum growth.
During steady state the relative growth rates of the different plant parts were equal. However, there were large differences between genotypes in absolute root growth rate at the same seedling size because of differences in root/shoot ratio. Lodgepole pine had the highest root growth rate, whereas that of Norway spruce, especially the southern provenance, was remarkably low. Yet, Norway spruce had a high ability to utilize available nutrients. In treatments with free nutrient access, growth allocation to the shoot had a high priority in all genotypes, but there was still a marked tendency for luxury uptake of nutrients. Nitrogen productivity (growth rate per unit of nitrogen) was lower than in broadleaved species and highest in lodgepole pine. The relevance of the dynamic factors, i.e. maximum relative growth rate, nutrient uptake rate, nitrogen productivity, growth allocation and root growth rate, are discussed with regard to conifer characteristics and selection value.