The seed yield and healthy oil in sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.), as an important industrial crop, decrease under stress. There is not much investigation, to our knowledge, on the use of potassium fertilization, a regulator of plant water potential, affecting the biochemical properties and seed components of sunflower under drought stress. Accordingly, such parameters were investigated in a split-split plot field experiment, conducted in two different field sites (Natanz (Nt) and Eghlid (Eg), Iran), using potassium fertilization (subplots, 0, 150 and 300 kg/ha) and six drought levels (main plots) in four replicates. Although stress significantly affected sunflower biochemical properties and seed components in the two fields, the effects of stress were more pronounced in the Eg site (significant interaction of field and drought). The plant alleviated the stress by increasing the proline, oleic and linoleic acid concentrations, however, potassium fertilization also increased plant tolerance further under stress by enhancing such components compared with control. Interestingly, the Eg site was more responsive to the potassium fertilization (significant interaction of field and fertilization), as the fertilizer resulted in a higher rate of plant biochemical properties and seed components. The use of potassium fertilization at 300 kg/ha (K3) was the most effective treatment in the alleviation of stress. Interestingly, under drought stress, potassium contributed to the enhanced quantity and quality of sunflower by increasing seed components, and enhancing the biochemical properties of the plant, which can also improve crop physiological mechanisms. The results can further increase our understanding related to the effects of potassium fertilization on the yield and physiology of sunflower under drought stress. Such results are of economic, environmental and health significance.
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