Plant flexibility and unhealthy brace roots

Copper is known to provide flexibility to plant structures. Stems become flexible, plants can bend in high winds, and stand back up afterward, without any breaking or lodging. Twigs and branches become more flexible and don’t break as easily. Spurs and fruit clusters become less fragile and breakable. Crops that are sometimes known for ‘brittle’ leaves like broccoli don’t have the leaves snap off as easily. Fruit skin becomes more flexible and very slightly stretchable, allowing for fruit expansion right at maturity with additional moisture without cracking and splitting.  Copper provides all of these benefits because it enhances the formation of lignins in the structural tissue. We have observed all of these benefits occurring in the field.

When grain crops have adequate copper, they develop very flexible stems. A corn plant should be able to bend when gripping the stalk immediately above the ear until the tassel brushes the ground, with no strain, and stand right back up again. This gives grain crops a lot of resilience to severe weather stress and physical abuse.

This also means plants do not need so-called ‘brace roots’. At least not to ‘brace’ themselves. ‘Brace’ roots only show when the plant’s vascular tissue is plugged immediately below the node. As soon as the vascular tissue begins plugging, plants quickly send out emergency bypass roots at the node, above the plugged transport pipeline. When the pipeline plugs again one node higher, the plants send out another set of brace roots. The worse the plugging is over the season, the more sets of brace roots a corn plant will extend.

Vascular tissue (xylem) plugging seems to occur when plants are absorbing a great deal of oxidized iron, sometimes aluminum, and seems to be associated with herbicide use. The more herbicides that have been used historically, the worse plugging and brace root expression seems to become.

This means brace roots are in reality a negative signal of plant health.

In cases of extreme vascular plugging, there is so much growth from the node, individual roots are not even visible, but the growth is in a continuous band. In cases where the soil has a toxic accumulation of herbicide, the brace roots may grow down toward the soil surface, and then curve back and point upward again, as they seek to avoid the toxic soil.

It is possible to grow corn crops with no brace roots. A grower sent me this photo of a buffer strip between an organic field and herbicide sprayed field. The buffer is cultivated for weed control. I didn’t personally visit, so my best guess is the cultivated side on the right has had one set of brace roots buried from soil movement. In any case both of these crops have either only a single set, or no brace roots.

Have you observed corn with a continuous band of brace root growth, or where the brace roots turn up and away from the soil? I would love to see your photos and share them.

P.S. We have a big announcement coming tomorrow. Stay tuned!