Plant Hormones

Abscisic Acid (ABA)

Abscisic acid also called ABA, was discovered and researched under two different names before its chemical properties were fully known, it was called dormin and abscicin II. Once it was determined that the two latter compounds were the same; it was named abscisic acid. The name abscisic acid was given because it was found in high concentrations in newly abscised or freshly fallen leaves.

This class of PGR is composed of one chemical compound normally produced in the leaves of plants, originating from chloroplasts, especially when plants are under stress. In general, it acts as an inhibitory chemical compound that affects bud growth, seed and bud dormancy. It mediates changes within the apical meristem causing bud dormancy and the alteration of the last set of leaves into protective bud covers. Since it was found in freshly abscised leaves, it was thought to play a role in the processes of natural leaf drop but further research has disproven this. In plant species from temperate parts of the world it plays a role in leaf and seed dormancy by inhibiting growth, but, as it is dissipated from seeds or buds, growth begins. In other plants, as ABA levels decrease, growth then commences as gibberellin levels increase. Without ABA, buds and seeds would start to grow during warm periods in winter and be killed when it froze again. Since ABA dissipates slowly from the tissues and its effects take time to be offset by other plant hormones, there is a delay in physiological pathways that provide some protection from premature growth. It accumulates within seeds during fruit maturation, preventing seed germination within the fruit, or seed germination before winter. Abscisic acid's effects are degraded within plant tissues during cold temperatures or by its removal by water washing in out of the tissues, releasing the seeds and buds from dormancy.

In plants under water stress, ABA plays a role in closing the stomata. Soon after plants are water-stressed and the roots are deficient in water, a signal moves up to the leaves, causing the formation of ABA precursors there, which then move to the roots. The roots then release ABA, which is translocated to the foliage through the vascular system and modulates the potassium and sodium uptake within the guard cells, which then lose turgidity, closing the stomata. ABA exists in all parts of the plant and its concentration within any tissue seems to mediate its effects and function as a hormone; its degradation, or more properly catabolism, within the plant affects metabolic reactions and cellular growth and production of other hormones. Plants start life as a seed with high ABA levels, just before the seed germinates ABA levels decrease; during germination and early growth of the seedling, ABA levels decrease even more. As plants begin to produce shoots with fully functional leaves - ABA levels begin to increase, slowing down cellular growth in more "mature" areas of the plant. Stress from water or predation affects ABA production and catabolism rates, mediating another cascade of effects that trigger specific responses from targeted cells. Scientists are still piecing together the complex interactions and effects of this and other phytohormones.

Auxins (IAA)

Auxins are compounds that positively influence cell enlargement, bud formation and root initiation. They also promote the production of other hormones and in conjunction with cytokinins, they control the growth of stems, roots, and fruits, and convert stems into flowers. Auxins were the first class of growth regulators discovered. They affect cell elongation by altering cell wall plasticity. Auxins decrease in light and increase where it is dark. They stimulate cambium cells to divide and in stems cause secondary xylem to differentiate. Auxins act to inhibit the growth of buds lower down the stems, and also to promote lateral and adventitious root development and growth. Leaf abscission is initiated by the growing point of a plant ceasing to produce auxins. Auxins in seeds regulate specific protein synthesis, as they develop within the flower after pollination, causing the flower to develop a fruit to contain the developing seeds. Auxins are toxic to plants in large concentrations; they are most toxic to dicots and less so to monocots. Because of this property, synthetic auxin herbicides including 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T have been developed and used for weed control. Auxins, especially 1-Naphthaleneacetic acid (NAA) and Indole-3-butyric acid (IBA), are also commonly applied to stimulate root growth when taking cuttings of plants. The most common auxin found in plants is indoleacetic acid or IAA. The correlation of auxins and cytokinins in the plants is a constant (A/C = const.).


Cytokinins are a group of chemicals that influence cell division and shoot formation. They were called kinins in the past when the first cytokinins were isolated from yeast cells. They also help delay senescence or the aging of tissues, are responsible for mediating auxin transport throughout the plant, and affect intermodal length and leaf growth. They have a highly synergistic effect in concert with auxins and the ratios of these two groups of plant hormones affect most major growth periods during a plant's lifetime. Cytokinins counter the apical dominance induced by auxins; they in conjunction with ethylene promote abscission of leaves, flower parts and fruits. The correlation of auxins and cytokinins in the plants is a constant (A/C = const.).


Ethylene is a gas that forms through the Yang Cycle from the breakdown of methionine, which is in all cells. Ethylene has very limited solubility in water and does not accumulate within the cell but diffuses out of the cell and escapes out of the plant. Its effectiveness as a plant hormone is dependent on its rate of production versus its rate of escaping into the atmosphere. Ethylene is produced at a faster rate in rapidly growing and dividing cells, especially in darkness. New growth and newly germinated seedlings produce more ethylene than can escape the plant, which leads to elevated amounts of ethylene, inhibiting leaf expansion. As the new shoot is exposed to light, reactions by phytrochrome in the plant's cells produce a signal for ethylene production to decrease, allowing leaf expansion. Ethylene affects cell growth and cell shape; when a growing shoot hits an obstacle while underground, ethylene production greatly increases, preventing cell elongation and causing the stem to swell. The resulting thicker stem can exert more pressure against the object impeding its path to the surface. If the shoot does not reach the surface and the ethylene stimulus becomes prolonged, it affects the stems natural geotropic response, which is to grow upright, allowing it to grow around an object. Studies seem to indicate that ethylene affects stem diameter and height: When stems of trees are subjected to wind, causing lateral stress, greater ethylene production occurs, resulting in thicker, more sturdy tree trunks and branches. Ethylene affects fruit-ripening: Normally, when the seeds are mature, ethylene production increases and builds-up within the fruit, resulting in a climacteric event just before seed dispersal. The nuclear protein Ethylene Insensitive2 (EIN2) is regulated by ethylene production, and, in turn, regulates other hormones including ABA and stress hormones.

Gibberellins (GA)

Gibberellins; include a large range of chemicals that are produced naturally within plants and by fungi. They were first discovered when Japanese researchers, including Eiichi Kurosawa, noticed a chemical produced by a fungus called Gibberella fujikuroi that produced abnormal growth in rice plants. Gibberellins are important in seed germination, affecting enzyme production that mobilizes food production used for growth of new cells. This is done by modulating chromosomal transcription. In grain (rice, wheat, corn, etc.) seeds, a layer of cells called the aleurone layer wraps around the endosperm tissue. Absorption of water by the seed causes production of GA. The GA is transported to the aleurone layer, which responds by producing enzymes that break down stored food reserves within the endosperm, which are utilized by the growing seedling. Gibberellins produce bolting of rosette-forming plants, increasing intermodal length. They promote flowering, cellular division, and in seeds growth after germination. Gibberellins also reverse the inhibition of shoot growth and dormancy induced by ABA.


Other identified plant growth regulators include:

  • Salicylic acid - activates genes in some plants that produce chemicals that aid in the defense against pathogenic invaders.

  • Jasmonates - are produced from fatty acids and seem to promote the production of defense proteins that are used to fend off invading organisms. They are believed to also have a role in seed germination, and affect the storage of protein in seeds, and seem to affect root growth.

  • Plant peptide hormones - encompasses all small secreted peptides that are involved in cell-to-cell signaling. These small peptide hormones play crucial roles in plant growth and development, including defense mechanisms, the control of cell division and expansion, and pollen self-incompatibility.

  • Polyamines - are strongly basic molecules with low molecular weight that have been found in all organisms studied thus far. They are essential for plant growth and development and affect the process of mitosis and meiosis.

  • Nitric oxide (NO) - serves as signal in hormonal and defense responses.

  • Strigolactones, implicated in the inhibition of shoot branching.

  • Karrikins, a group of plant growth regulators found in the smoke of burning plant material that have the ability to stimulate the germination of seeds.

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