We’ve all heard more about pandemics in the past couple of years than anyone would care to know. But the plants in your garden are in a PAN-demic of their own. PAN is short for peroxyacetyl nitrate. [You can see why we call it PAN.]
PAN is second only to ozone in its toxicity to plants. As a type of air pollution, it is hardest on small plants and young leaves.
What is PAN?
PAN occurs when sunlight hits car exhaust and industrial gases. We won’t get into the chemistry of it or the different types of PANs. It’s enough to say that hydrocarbons interact with nitrogen in the air, creating problems for plants. PANs occur in high-traffic areas and industrialized regions.
Like other garden issues, not all plants are affected equally. Beets, cane fruits, celery, dill, endive, escarole, fennel, lettuces, melons, oats, peppers, pinto beans, potatoes, spinach, sunflowers, Swiss chard, and tomatoes are all vulnerable to PANs in the air. If you live in an area where PAN might be a problem, broccoli, cabbages, corn, cucumbers, lima beans, onions, radishes, sorghum, and wheat should perform better than more sensitive plants.
Symptoms of PAN
PAN causes the tissues that make up the underside of leaves to collapse. This damage may appear as bronzing, glazing, or silvering. These discolorations commonly appear in bands or blotches. When pinto beans and tomatoes are affected by PAN, the tissue collapse may affect the whole leaf. In grasses, like corn and millet, leaves affected by PAN look bleached. Chlorosis, early maturity, premature leaf drop, stunting, and weather flecking also occur.
PAN can combine with ethylene to make matters worse. Healthy plants produce ethylene as part of the ripening process. But ethylene is also found in vehicle exhaust and industrial fumes, which means there is often too much of it available. Ethylene acts as a plant hormone. And we’ve all seen what happens when people take too many steroids.
Symptoms of PAN combined with ethylene include downward leaf and stem curling (epinasty), inward petal curling and the failure of buds to open (sleepiness), and stunting. Color breaking in blossoms and early petal drop may also occur.
Bottom line: air pollution is harmful to all of us.
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