How to recognize nutrient deficiencies in micropropagation?

Do you ever observe your plants with pale colors on leaves or just drying out? Or plants not showing optimum growth in tissue culture? Then it is possible that your plants are experiencing nutrient deficiencies! Nutrients are important for all plants whether they grow on field or in a tissue culture lab. Hence, it is interesting for us to learn not just about different nutrients plants need, but also how to notice nutrient deficiencies in micropropagation.

But first, if you are new to the world of plant tissue culture and don't know about what nutrients plants need? Or what are the benefits of these nutrients for plant growth? Then have a look at this article "2 major nutrient components of culture media".

So what is a nutrient deficiency?

When we supply the necessary nutrients via tissue culture media, the tissues/explants grow and multiplies to form healthy plantlets. However, when the plant system does not have enough amount of any of the elements, then you can observe some abnormal symptoms in plants. These symptoms are the result of one or more deficiencies acting together. The deficiency symptoms could be simply yellowing, curling or drying of leaves and so on. It could also be dead tissues occurring in patches in different parts of a plant.

Did you know that some elements can move to different parts of the plant while others cannot? They are either mobile or immobile in the plant system. We call this as nutrient mobility in plants!

Mobile nutrients move from older tissues to younger ones. So the interesting point for us is that here the deficiency will show up in older plant parts. But an immobile element does not move! So you can notice the deficiency symptoms on the younger stem, root tips or leaves.

Every plant shows nutrient deficiency symptoms every now and then. Learning how to recognize the element responsible for a particular symptom can be a bit tricky! But the good news is, you can become pretty good at it with time, careful observations and a lot of practice. And you can start practising anytime and literally anywhere, be it in the field, your own greenhouse or in the growth rooms for tissue culture plants.

You might be wondering now, what can you do after recognizing the nutrient deficiency in tissue culture? The answer is simple! You can simply transfer your cultures to a modified media enriched with the deficient nutrient. This step will help your plants to slowly recover from deficiency and show decent growth. You can find several of these modified media in our webshop.

Let us now briefly discuss different symptoms which we can observe when an element is deficient:

Symptoms of nutrient deficiencies

Nitrogen deficiency


It is a highly mobile element for plants. Deficiency can appear like uniform chlorotic leaves (pale, yellow or yellow-white leaves).

Phosphorus deficiency


It is a mobile element as well. Its deficiency can be recognized as stunted growth and reddish to purple coloration.


Deficiency can lead to abnormal plants. Older leaves in the plants can show curled or necrotic margins (premature death of living cells).

Calcium deficiency


It is an immobile element. Plants take up calcium during water movement within the plant and its evaporation from aerial parts such as leaves. Its deficiency can cause shoots and root tips to die off.

Magnesium deficiency


It is a mobile element and is an important component of chlorophyll molecules. Its deficiency can look like yellowing of the tissues between the veins of leaves (interveinal chlorosis). It appears evidently on the outside of leaves. This happens due to a decline in chlorophyll production.

Sulfur deficiency


It is a partially mobile element. As it is supplied in culture media along with different elements, there is a rare chance of sulfur deficiency in plants. If there is a deficiency, it results into overall yellowing of the plant.

Boron deficiency


It is an immobile element whose deficiency causes internal tissues in plant and plantlets to deteriorate.

Chlorine deficiency


An important element for growth and any deficiency causes leaves to droop (wilted leaves).

Copper deficiency


Its deficiency can lead to retarded growth and leaf malformations as it is believed to be necessary for energy conversion.

Iron deficiency


It is an immobile element and deficiency leads to yellowed (chlorotic) leaves. Yellowing can be observed between the veins too, thus giving striped appearance to leaves.

Manganese deficiency


The deficiency of this element appears like yellowing in spots/patches in leaves in between veins.

Molybdenum deficiency


It is an essential element for protein synthesis. Its deficiency can lead to stunted growth in some plant species to narrow leaf condition in some other plants.

Zinc deficiency


When zinc is deficient, it causes formation of abnormal roots and malformed leaves with yellowing.

So these are the major nutrient deficiencies and their symptoms which you can find in a tissue culture lab. We hope this information will be useful for many of you. For more articles on plant tissue culture, keep checking this space !

By Nancy Bhatia | 11-May-2021


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