Exudation of organic acids by roots has been implicated in uptake of minerals from soil. Three cultivars within each of two subspecies of summer squash (Cucurbita pepo ssp. ovifera D. S. Decker var. ovifera and C. pepo ssp. pepo var. pepo) were grown in the field. Plants of ssp. pepo had higher concentrations of K, P, and Zn than those of ssp. ovifera. These same cultivars were grown under P sufficient and depleted conditions in hydroponics, to measure exudation of organic acids from roots. When grown in hydroponics, tissues of ssp. ovifera had similar or higher concentrations of nutrients than ssp. pepo. Therefore, differences in tissue composition of field-grown plants are likely due to differences in nutrient uptake ability, not inherent differences in tissue composition between subspecies. Phosphorus nutrition played a significant role in exudation of organic acids into the hydroponics solution. For both subspecies, P depletion resulted in exudation of more citric and succinic acid, and less oxalic and tartaric acid. Under P depletion, ssp. pepo exuded more citric acid than ssp. ovifera. When soil was eluted with solution containing root exudates, the exudates from ssp. pepo eluted more K, Mg, Fe, and Zn than did those from ssp. ovifera. Among subspecies of C. pepo, exudation of organic acids, particularly exudation of citric acid in response to P depletion, is associated with the plant's ability to accumulate more inorganic nutrients when grown in the field.
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Scientist, Department of Forestry and Horticulture, Corresponding author e-mail Martin.Gent@po.state.ct.us.