Modelling plant growth allows us to test hypotheses and carry out virtual experiments concerning plant growth processes that could otherwise take years in field conditions. The visualization of growth simulations allows us to see directly and vividly the outcome of a given model and provides us with an instructive tool useful for agronomists and foresters, as well as for teaching. Functional–structural (FS) plant growth models are nowadays particularly important for integrating biological processes with environmental conditions in 3-D virtual plants, and provide the basis for more advanced research in plant sciences.
In this viewpoint paper, we ask the following questions. Are we modelling the correct processes that drive plant growth, and is growth driven mostly by sink or source activity? In current models, is the importance of soil resources (nutrients, water, temperature and their interaction with meristematic activity) considered adequately? Do classic models account for architectural adjustment as well as integrating the fundamental principles of development? Whilst answering these questions with the available data in the literature, we put forward the opinion that plant architecture and sink activity must be pushed to the centre of plant growth models. In natural conditions, sinks will more often drive growth than source activity, because sink activity is often controlled by finite soil resources or developmental constraints.
This viewpoint paper also serves as an introduction to this Special Issue devoted to plant growth modelling, which includes new research covering areas stretching from cell growth to biomechanics. All papers were presented at the Second International Symposium on Plant Growth Modeling, Simulation, Visualization and Applications (PMA06), held in Beijing, China, from 13–17 November, 2006. Although a large number of papers are devoted to FS models of agricultural and forest crop species, physiological and genetic processes have recently been included and point the way to a new direction in plant modelling research.