Plants & lighting

PAR and Plant Response Curve

Just as humans need a balanced diet, plants need balanced, full-spectrum light for good health and optimum growth. The quality of light is as important as quantity. Plants are sensitive to a similar portion of the spectrum as is the human eye. This portion of the light spectrum is referred to as photosynthetically active radiation or PAR, namely about 400 to 700 nanometers in wavelength. Nevertheless, plant response within this region is very different from that of humans.

The human eye has a peak sensitivity in the yellow-green region, around 550 nanometers. This is the "optic yellow" colour used for highly visible signs and objects. Plants, on the other hand, respond more effectively to red light and to blue light, the peak being in the red region at around 630 nanometers. The graphs below show the human eye response curve and the plant response curve. Note the vast difference in the contours.

In the same way fat provides the most efficient calories for humans, red light provides the most efficient food for plants. However, a plant illuminated only with red or orange light will fail to develop sufficient bulk. Leafy growth (vegetative growth) and bulk also require blue light. Many other complex processes are triggered by light required from different regions of the spectrum. The correct portion of the spectrum varies from species to species. However, the quantity of light needed for plant growth and health can be measured, assuming that all portions of the spectrum are adequately covered. Light for plants cannot, however, be measured with the same standards used to measure light for humans. Some basic definitions and distinctions follow that are useful in determining appropriate ways to measure the quantity of light for hydroponic plant growth.

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