Ethylene diurea (EDU) is synthetic chemical which protects plants against damage caused by ground level O3 and is used experimentally as a biomonitoring tool at doses usually ranging from 200 to 400 mg L− 1 a.i. Although several studies have investigated the protective action of EDU, this mechanism remains unclear. Important uncertainties in EDU action are whether EDU acts as a source of nitrogen (N) to plants and whether high doses are phytotoxic. In order to answer these questions, we conducted an open-field experiment where potted willow (Salix sachalinensis Fr. Schm) plants were exposed to ambient O3 conditions and treated with 0, 800 or 1600 mg L− 1 EDU as a soil drench, every nine days, for about 2.5 months. We examined approximately 50 response variables. Based on N content in different plant organs, we found that (a) all EDU was transferred to the leaves and (b) high doses of EDU increased the leaf N content. However, EDU did not affect the C content and distribution within the plant body. Still, even at the highest dose, EDU was not toxic to this fast-growing species (however such a high dose should not be applied in uncontrolled environments); and there was no EDU persistence in the soil, as indicated by soil N content. Notably, our soil was free from organic matter and N-poor.
Key message: EDU per se does not cause toxicity to willow plants when applied as drench to a soil with no organic matter, rather, high EDU doses may act as nitrogen fertilizer in a nitrogen-poor soil.