Revision Notes

14.2.4 Tropic Responses

Plant Tropisms

  • Plants can respond to changes in environment (stimuli) for survival, e.g. light, water, gravity
  • Their responses are usually much slower than animals
  • They grow either towards a stimulus (known as a positive response) or away from a stimulus (known as a negative response)
  • The responses are known as tropisms

Tropic Responses table, IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notes

  • It is very important to a plant that its roots and shoots grow in the right directions 
  • Shoots must grow upwards, away from gravity and towards light, so that leaves are able to absorb sunlight
  • This means that shoots have a positive phototropic response and a negative gravitropic response
  • Roots need to grow downwards into the soil, away from light and towards gravity,  in order to anchor the plant and absorb water and minerals from the soil particles.
  • This means that roots have a negative phototropic response and a positive gravitropic response

The gravitropic response, IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notesPlacing a plant on its side shows the gravitropic responses (also known as geotropic responses)

Investigating Trospisms


  • Three identical plants are set up as shown below (A, B and C)

Investigating the phototropic response, IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notesInvestigating the phototropic response

  • The seedlings in A grow towards the light source
  • In B the effect of the light only coming from one direction has been cancelled out by using a clinostat (it revolves slowly and repeatedly, so the shoots are evenly exposed to light)
  • This means all sides of the seedlings get an equal amount of light so they do not curve towards the light source but grow straight up
  • In C the seedlings grow straight up looking for light and the plant becomes tall and slender with yellowing leaves due to the lack of light


Investigating the gravitropic response (set-up), IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notesInvestigating the gravitropic response (set-up)

  • Add some damp cotton wool to two petri dishes
  • Place 3 bean seedlings in the cotton wool in each petri dish
    • A – radicle facing downwards
    • B – horizontally
    • C – radicle (root grows from here) facing upwards
  • Cover each dish with a lid 
  • Attach one petri dish to a support so that it’s on its side
  • Attach the second petri dish to a clinostat  (as shown in the diagrams above). 
  • Place both in a light-proof box (so that the seedlings are in complete darkness), leave for two days and then observe growth of the seedlings

Investigating the gravitropic response (results), IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notesInvestigating the gravitropic response (results)

  • In the first petri dish all radicles (roots) have grown downwards (positive gravitropic response) regardless of which way they were initially facing (horizontal, up or down) and all plumules (shoots) have grown upwards (negative gravitropic response)
  • In the second petri dish, all radicles and all plumules have all grown neither up nor down but straight outwards in whichever direction they were placed as the effect of gravity has been cancelled out by the revolving of the clinostat – they have shown no gravitropic response at all
  • The experiment needs to be done in a lightproof box in order to cancel out the effect of light on the growth of the seedlings

Exam Tip

Make sure you know what a clinostat is and what it does (cancel out the effect of light or gravity)

Extended Only

The Role of Auxin

  • Plants respond to stimuli by producing a growth hormone called auxin which controls the direction of growth of roots or stems
  • Therefore we say plants control their growth chemically
  • Auxin is mostly made in the tips of the growing stems and roots and can diffuse to other parts of the stems or roots; spreading from a high concentration in the shoot tips down the shoot to an area of lower concentration. 
  • Auxin stimulates the cells behind the tip to elongate (get larger); the more auxin there is, the faster they will elongate and grow  
    • This is an important point. Only the region behind the tip of a shoot is able to contribute to growth by cell division and cell elongation. This part of a shoot is called the meristem. 
  • If light shines all around the tip, auxin is distributed evenly throughout and the cells in the meristem grow at the same rate – this is what normally happens with plants growing outside
  • When light shines on the shoot predominantly from one side though, the auxin produced in the tip concentrates on the shaded side, making the cells on that side elongate and grow faster than the cells on the sunny side
  • This unequal growth on either side of the shoot causes the shoot to bend and grow in the direction of the light

Positive-phototropism-in-plant-shoots, IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notesPositive phototropism in plant shoots

  • The role of auxin can be tested using seedlings placed in a box that has a slit on one side, only allowing light in from one direction:

Investigating the phototropic response (set-up), IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notesInvestigating the phototropic response set-up

Investigating the phototropic response results:

Tropic Responses table, IGCSE & GCSE Biology revision notes

Exam Tip

You should be able to explain the results of an experiment like this into the effect of light on the growth of shoots.

Your syllabus does NOT require you to know anything about the effect of light (or gravity) on the growth of roots so don’t spend time learning anything about it!

Extended Only

Plant Hormones & Weedkillers

  • Most weedkillers contain synthetic hormones like auxin – known as 2,4D
  • They are selective so they are sprayed onto an area such as a lawn or farm crops and the synthetic auxin affects the weeds but not the grass / crop plants
  • The weeds respond by growing very fast and then dying, leaving more space, nutrients and water for the grass or crop plants to grow

Author: Jenna

Jenna studied at Cardiff University before training to become a science teacher at the University of Bath specialising in Biology (although she loves teaching all three sciences at GCSE level!). Teaching is her passion, and with 10 years experience teaching across a wide range of specifications – from GCSE and A Level Biology in the UK to IGCSE and IB Biology internationally – she knows what is required to pass those Biology exams.

Join Save My Exams

Download all our Revision Notes as PDFs

Try a Free Sample of our revision notes as a printable PDF.

Join Now