Do plants absorb nutrients from the water itself or does the water dissolve nutrients in the soil which can then be absorbed by the plant?
Water can and will dissolve minerals in the soil.
Dissolved minerals can and will be taken up by the plant with the water flow into the plant. For uptake by the plant, some nutrients require metabolic energy, while others are taken up more passively.
An element in its solid state normally cannot enter the plant. It MUST be soluble. It is possible to force solids into a plant by scraping and applying, or by injecting or "shooting" it into the plant.
Water is required for turgor, which is the water pressure inside the plant cells. Without turgor the plant wilts. Water pressure is also required for growth (it is the force that expands plant cells).
Water is required as an electron source for photosynthesis.
Water is the solvent of life.
Read Plant Physiology.
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