Types of Plant Hormones

There are five general classes of hormones: auxins, cytokinins, gibberellins, ethylene, and abscisic acid.


An auxin, indole‐3‐acetic acid (IAA), was the first plant hormone identified. It is manufactured primarily in the shoot tips (in leaf primordia and young leaves), in embryos, and in parts of developing flowers and seeds. Its transport from cell to cell through the parenchyma surrounding the vascular tissues requires the expenditure of ATP energy. IAA moves in one direction only—that is, the movement is polar and, in this case, downward. Such downward movement in shoots is said to be basipetal movement, and in roots it is acropetal.

Auxins alone or in combination with other hormones are responsible for many aspects of plant growth. IAA in particular:

  • Activates the differentiation of vascular tissue in the shoot apex and in calluses; initiates division of the vascular cambium in the spring; promotes growth of vascular tissue in healing of wounds.
  • Activates cellular elongation by increasing the plasticity of the cell wall.
  • Maintains apical dominance indirectly by stimulating the production of ethylene, which directly inhibits lateral bud growth.
  • Activates a gene required for making a protein necessary for growth and other genes for the synthesis of wall materials made and secreted by dictyosomes.
  • Promotes initiation and growth of adventitious roots in cuttings.
  • Promotes the growth of many fruits (from auxin produced by the developing seeds).
  • Suppresses the abscission (separation from the plant) of fruits and leaves (lowered production of auxin in the leaf is correlated with formation of the abscission layer).
  • Inhibits most flowering (but promotes flowering of pineapples).
  • Activates tropic responses.
  • Controls aging and senescence, dormancy of seeds.

Synthetic auxins are extensively used as herbicides, the most widely known being 2,4‐D and the notorious 2,4,5‐T, which were used in a 1:1 combination as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and sprayed over the Vietnam forests as a defoliant.


Named because of their discovered role in cell division (cytokinesis), the cytokinins have a molecular structure similar to adenine. Naturally occurring zeatin, isolated first from corn ( Zea mays), is the most active of the cytokinins. Cytokinins are found in sites of active cell division in plants—for example, in root tips, seeds, fruits, and leaves. They are transported in the xylem and work in the presence of auxin to promote cell division. Differing cytokinin:auxin ratios change the nature of organogenesis. If kinetin is high and auxin low, shoots are formed; if kinetin is low and auxin high, roots are formed. Lateral bud development, which is retarded by auxin, is promoted by cytokinins. Cytokinins also delay the senescence of leaves and promote the expansion of cotyledons.


The gibberellins are widespread throughout the plant kingdom, and more than 75 have been isolated, to date. Rather than giving each a specific name, the compounds are numbered—for example, GA1, GA2, and so on. Gibberellic acid three (GA3) is the most widespread and most thoroughly studied. The gibberellins are especially abundant in seeds and young shoots where they control stem elongation by stimulating both cell division and elongation (auxin stimulates only cell elongation). The gibberellins are carried by the xylem and phloem. Numerous effects have been cataloged that involve about 15 or fewer of the gibberellic acids. The greater number with no known effects apparently are precursors to the active ones.

Experimentation with GA3 sprayed on genetically dwarf plants stimulates elongation of the dwarf plants to normal heights. Normal‐height plants sprayed with GA3 become giants.


Ethylene is a simple gaseous hydrocarbon produced from an amino acid and appears in most plant tissues in large amounts when they are stressed. It diffuses from its site of origin into the air and affects surrounding plants as well. Large amounts ordinarily are produced by roots, senescing flowers, ripening fruits, and the apical meristem of shoots. Auxin increases ethylene production, as does ethylene itself—small amounts of ethylene initiate copious production of still more. Ethylene stimulates the ripening of fruit and initiates abscission of fruits and leaves. In monoecious plants (those with separate male and female flowers borne on the same plant), gibberellins and ethylene concentrations determine the sex of the flowers: Flower buds exposed to high concentrations of ethylene produce carpellate flowers, while gibberellins induce staminate ones.

Abscisic acid

Abscisic acid (ABA), despite its name, does not initiate abscission, although in the 1960s when it was named botanists thought that it did. It is synthesized in plastids from carotenoids and diffuses in all directions through vascular tissues and parenchyma. Its principal effect is inhibition of cell growth. ABA increases in developing seeds and promotes dormancy. If leaves experience water stress, ABA amounts increase immediately, causing the stomata to close.