ELi5: Can plants be “overweight” if they produce too much food in the similar fashion to how animals gain weight if they eat too much food?



When animals eat too much food, they gain weight. What happens to a plant that produces too much food via photosynthesis? Can plants be overweight?

In: Biology

The only weight stress that occurs to plants from weight is on the branches holding them. Plants don’t become overweight, but, their fruit can become oversized if it isn’t harvested as needed.

No. But they can experience intumescence, where they have absorbed so much water that their tissues engorge and get covered in these little bumps.

EDIT: I was thinking about tree bark. But yes, as others have pointed out, it can also result in ruptures.

Plants can get overloaded with fruits. In a year with plenty of water and sunshine, they can produce so many fruits that weigh itself down, which end up bending or snapping their branches.

Other plants can grow too big for their environments. A side branch growing towards sunshine may overextend and can break when stressed in wind or when covered with snow.

Plants can get “fat” if you are wondering, look at potatoes and ginger, or any other tuber, they do that to store nutrients and energy for the future, so in a sense yeah, plants do get overwheighted, you just need to find a big potato

In a way yes. It’s common for marijuana to get too heavy for it’s stems and snap in the flowering stage, I imagine other plants can too. Although that’s not really the same thing as animals being overweight.

Have you seen cacti? They are obviously bloated with sap for storage.

“Feeding” plants too often with fertilizer can cause what’s known as “nutrient burn.” The plant’s body can’t use all the nutrients that it’s absorbing and the chemical overload can cause it to lose leaves, have stunted growth, wilt, or even die.

EDIT: Some helpful people have pointed out that this actually doesn’t have anything to do with the plants processing nutrients, but rather that many of the nutrients in fertilizer are chemicals and salts that affect the roots’ ability to absorb water, and this is what causes the affected plants to appear “burnt”. It’s less like diabetes and more like choking on your food.

Former commercial horticulturalist here. While my input might not be as sound as a biologist, from real world experience we basically supercharge the plants to the peak of what nutrients they are able to receive just below the threshold of toxicity. If they receive over the threshold they’ll begin to die, in specific ways depending on the nutrient. This allows the plants to bear (things) at their maximum weight, to the point that they need to be tied or else they’ll snap.

My experience in aquaculture is pretty much the same, but obviously the plants don’t gain weight, they basically suffocate if they become too dense because co2 can’t properly circulate.

Yes, absolutely. Fruit trees need to be regularly thinned, so instead of more of smaller fruits, they produce fewer, bigger fruits. Also, if you don’t do this they can end up producing only every other year.

If you mean in terms of weight and weighing down the whole plant, I’d say that issue comes up much more with fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, pepper, and eggplants. I’ve never seen those vegetables not needing to be supported by posts

Cannabis is typically grown to be “overweight” on purpose, needing netting or a similar device to help hold up branches

I feel like a lot of people are misunderstanding your question and focusing on the plant being physically too heavy (with fruit/flowers etc). Unless ***I’m*** misunderstanding I think you mean is it possible to harm a plant by giving it more nutrients than it requires for survival. The answer is yes! Over feeding a plant makes it look superficially healthy, bigger, bushier etc but the plant will be weaker and harder to keep alive. The pots of herbs you buy in supermarkets are blasted with fertiliser to make them look bigger (and often it’s not one plant but 4-5 crammed together in too small a space). As you might have experienced yourself, those supermarket herbs die pretty quickly, even in the hands of people who know about plants. Sorry to go off on a supermarket herb tangent but you can keep them alive by unpotting them, carefully separating out the plants from each other and putting them in their own pots with good quality soil. And laying off the plant food. Hope I’ve answered your question!

One of the saddest facts about cherrys is that they can absorb a hell of alot of water quickly so when they are about to be picked if it rains too much they will all split . Ruining them all

Not similar. Most plants don’t create storage for excess energy based on just nutrient consumption. They are efficient in that all nutrients taken up will be put toward growth or fruit. The exception would be biennials perrenials, though their energy storage mechanisms are usually subject to environmental cues rather than just nutrient uptake. Onions will bulb out based on the amount of daylight they receive, and will then use the bulb as an energy store over winter. Most of your flower bulbs behave similarly. Trees will create large stores of sugar as daylight hours shorten and the weather cools. This not only feeds the tree, but the sugar and some proteins act as a sort of antifreeze to keep its cells from rupturing due to ice formation.

Something I haven’t seen mentioned is a weed killer called [2,4-d](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic_acid). The process kills weeds by making them grow at an unsustainable rate. The plants grow until they die due to not having enough nutrients or energy. The process is very efficient and 2,4-d is one of the most popular lawn care chemicals for weeds.

It is also extremely controversial not only as a herbicide but because of its usage in the chemical weapon agent orange.

If you give cannabis plants too much nitrogen they’ll keep prioritizing leaf and branch production into the flowering phase at the cost of its own flowers/seeds. Im assuming this could happen to other plants too

this is only semi-related to your question but that is one way herbicides work, by mimicking the chemicals that signal growth and basically causing a plant to starve itself trying to grow.

Viticulturist here (grape grower). Allowing a vineyard to overcrop is one of the worst things you can do. It has a detrimental impact on fruit composition and fruit quality. On top of that, it interferes in plant physiology and the vine’s ability to store nutrients over the winter and “harden off” to protect against winter damage. What usually happens the following year is higher rates of winter kill and poor canopy growth in order for the plant to compensate for the previous year’s over-cropping. Even just one year of over-cropping can set a vineyard back and take several years of work to correct it.

Tomato plants in particular are susceptible to producing excessive foliage, which will actually limit the number of fruit they can produce and increase the susceptibility to disease. So, yes. Plants can be “overweight”.

So one practice that I do with my pepper and tomato plants is called “pinching” and this basically stops the plant from producing fruit too soon. It allows the plant to grow bigger and have the potential for more production. I typically pinch the flowers off for the first 2-4 weeks that I see them, or until they reach a size that is to my liking.

For example, last year I had 2 identical fresno pepper plants, grown from the seeds of the EXACT SAME pepper pod. they started flowering at 6 weeks, and I pinched off the flowers on them both for the first 2 weeks, but the 3rd week I let one of them grow its flowers. The other I continued to pinch(because it was in a significantly larger planter). after the 2 weeks following, I let the SIGNIFICANTLY larger plant start producing flowers and quickly thereafter pods.

Smaller plant produced 119 pods that season. Larger plant produced 443 pods that season. Larger plant ended up dying off during the winter. Smaller plant ended up producing pods all throughout the winter and is starting to get back into its major production cycle again.

So there are benefits to both methods.

Cannabis plants certainly can. With genetics especially. for example, Blue dream grows wimpy stalks and branches but its Kolas get way too big and they commonly break themselves. The thing with plants is, (atleast cannabis) is they’ll only eat what they want.