Virtual plants are computer generated 3D models of plants, also called functional-structural plant models or FSPMs. Apart from generating a very attractive 3D visualisation of plant growth, these models are particularly suited to analyse problems in which spatial structure of the plant or its canopy is an essential factor to explain.
One could think of inter- and intra-plant competition, plant pruning or effects of plant configuration. Moreover, these models are able to integrate physiological, morphological, and genetic knowledge, at different hierarchical levels (organ – plant individual – canopy). These features make virtual plants a powerful tool to predict the form of the plant in response to its environment, given its inherent, gene-based plant properties.
This approach has considerable added value to existing analytical and empirical research methods, and has a wide range of potential applications – from genotype-to-phenotype modelling and breeding to agronomy and cropping systems design. Because environmental influences on each individual component of the plant can be simulated, interesting applications in ornamental production (flower quality), pests and diseases (e.g. insect movement) and the plant’s acquisition of resources (light, nutrients and water in soil) will become possible.