Floral displays suffer from sulphur deprivation

Ties Ausma, Vidisha Bansal, Marjan Kraaij, Anne C.M. Verloop, Anna Gasperl, Maria Müller, Stanislav Kopriva, Luit J. De Kok, Casper J. van der Kooi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Nutrient deficiency is known to constrain plant growth in numerous ways, but how it impacts floral displays and pollination success remains unclear. Here we investigate how insufficient availability of sulphur – a vital plant nutrient that is a limiting factor in natural and agricultural regions throughout the world – influences the production of floral displays in Brassica rapa, Physalis philadelphica and three Petunia species with differently coloured flowers. Sulphur deficiency led to a drastic reduction in the number of open flowers, an aberrant flower morphology and smaller pollen with an altered mineral nutrient content. Intriguingly, sulphur deprivation also led to a clear reduction in pigmentation of yellow flowers, but not in flowers with white, purple and red colours. The pale yellow flower colour was due to decreased amounts of violaxanthin, lutein and other carotenoids, suggesting that the carotenoid synthesis pathway is particularly susceptible to sulphur deficiency. Additional experiments with nitrogen and phosphorus depletion confirmed that observed colour and morphological changes were not a general nutrient limitation response, but could be ascribed to sulphur depletion specifically. Taken together, our results showed that (mild) sulphur deficiency deteriorates a suite of floral traits, and that the effects may cascade to pollinators and so have the potential to undermine (agro-)ecosystem functioning.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104656
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental and Experimental Botany
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • abiotic stress
  • flower colour
  • nutrient deficiency
  • pigment
  • plant-pollinator signalling
  • pollination
  • reflectance
  • sulphur metabolism


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