Every living thing needs water to survive. For humans, the recommended amount is 8 cups of water a day. For animals, some need water because that is where they live. For plants, water is almost entirely what they are composed of.
The tiny molecule of two hydrogens and one oxygen atom makes up 90% of all plant tissue. Water travels from the roots, up the stem by a process called transpiration, and reaches all the leaves. It gives plants their shape and volume which is essential for survival and reproduction. The water is stored in each cell of the plant and when the needed amount is present, all of the cells will become turgid. This is the desired state the cells want to be in since it causes a plant to stand up straight and supplies it with all the necessary nutrients.
When an adequate amount of water is not available, the cells will become flaccid. Water leaving the cell without being equally replaced is a process known as plasmolysis. Plasmolyzed cells are what causes a plant to wilt. Weak cell walls lead the cells to not be strong enough to give the needed structural support for the tissue.
Wilting can come on fast and can create irreversible problems if not treated in time. The main factors that cause this are dry soil, overwatering, and sun/heat exposure. A plant in dry soil is never a happy plant. It results in the roots not being able to supply every cell with water. As previously stated, this is when plasmolysis occurs. Don’t worry, this can be fixed! Knowing the soil conditions a plant thrives in and getting on a supplemental watering schedule is key. But don’t get too water happy because overwatering can have the same effect on the plant. Too much water will flood the cell’s air pockets that are present for oxygen. Cells can also become too turgid and explode which means they can no longer aid in structural support. Plant tissue is very delicate and only a few cells thick. When a plant receives constant exposure to the sun, it causes the water present to evaporate at an accelerated rate. If water is not being supplemented during these conditions, then all the plant tissue can begin to wilt, brown, burn, and crumble. These actions are unfortunately irreversible.
Water is the magic that causes plants to grow, thrive, and spread their beauty, but it can also be a curse within the garden.
Written by Horticulture Intern, Jenna Dedina