The plants are green, so can make their own sugars via photosynthesis (make food from the sun's energy). But the bacterium is not green, and cannot make its own sugars, for energy, as usually only green plants can photosynthesize. Fortunately, the bacterium can do some chemical magic, and change nitrogen found in the air into a simple nitrogen compound that the plant can use, such as nitrate. Simply, the plant gives the bacterium some sugars, (energy food to do their chemical magic ) and the bacterium gives the plant some nitrogen, and everyone is happy. A fair trade.

For legumes (plants in the family Fabaceae), like clovers, vetches, beans, Lotus, Lupines, and peas, for example, this "partner" is usually a bacterium called Rhizobium. For non-legumes (plants in other plant families, for example, the Rosaceae family) this "partner" is usually a bacterium called Frankia. The "partners" of these plants usually live on the roots of the legume or non-legume, in little nodules.

Some nitrogen-fixing plants do not form nodules on their roots, and they are considered by researchers to be more primitive, and fix lesser amounts of nitrogen.

nitrogen fixing nodules on Lotus - grid24_12
Rhizobium on Lotus
This photo shows the shape, the height, the width, and the flowering pattern of Lotus scoparius, Deerweed, in our Santa Margarita garden.  - grid24_12
Lotus scoparius, Deerweed
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Edited on Mar 20, 2012. Authors:
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