Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Plants, Soils, and Climate


Bruce Bugbee


Silicon is not considered an essential nutrient, but it is typically abundant in soils and can be taken up in large amounts by plants. Silicon is known to have beneficial effects when added to rice and several other plants. These effects include disease and insect resistance, structural fortification, and regulation of the uptake of other ions. In this study, the effect of silicic acid fertilization on the growth and drought tolerance of four crop plants (corn, wheat, soybean, and rice) was analyzed. Plants were studied using three cultivation techniques: 1) hydroponic solution and subjected to salt stress, 2) low-silicon soil-less medium (peat) and subjected to gradual drought stress, and 3) low-silicon soil-less medium (peat) and subjected to acute drought stress. Silicon was added both as reagent-grade Na2SiO3 and as a siliceous liming agent (PlantTuff). Both forms of Si generally improved drought and salt stress tolerance, but the effects were inconsistent. Silicon increased corn dry mass by up to 18% and the effect was statistically significant (p<0.05) in two out of three techniques. Silicon increased water use efficiency in corn by up to 36% and the effect was statistically significant (p<0.05) in one out of two techniques. In the acute drought stress technique, silicon increased wheat dry mass by 17% and the effect was statistically significant (p<0.05). Silicon increased soybean and rice dry mass by 20 to 30%, but the effect was not statistically significant. Silicon in oldest corn leaves increased from 0.4% to 3% as Si increased from less than 0.01 to 0.8 mM in the hydroponic solution. There was a statistically significant effect of silicon supply on the concentration of some other nutrients, but the effect was often not great enough to be considered biologically important. Rice accumulated the greatest concentration of foliar silicon, corn and wheat were intermediate, and soybean accumulated the least. Collectively, these results indicate an effect of silicon in drought and salinity stress tolerance, but additional studies on the rate and onset of drought are needed to determine interacting factors and better understand the inconsistent results.