Phosphorus plays a crucial role sustaining life, which is why it is crucial to fertilize crops sufficiently, but without adding too much of a good thing.
Phosphorus is one of a handful of elements that are essential for life, and is an important constituent in forming our genetic code, the molecules that produce energy for biological reactions, our cell membranes. Phosphorus and calcium are the two most abundant minerals in our bodies due to their essential function in creating strong teeth and bones.
Humans obtain phosphorus from their diet primarily from milk, grains, and protein-rich foods, whereas plants obtain phosphorus from the soil. Every time we consume a tomato or ear of corn, a bit of phosphorus is removed from the field in which the vegetables were grown. Each successive crop removes a little more of the nutrient so the next crop is a little smaller and a little less healthy. Native Americans solved the problem by moving their settlements to new locations every eight to ten years to plant crops in more nutrient-rich soil and allow the previous fields to recover naturally. Our modern concept of land ownership ties us to a single plot of land on a long-term basis, requiring the same land to be worked repeatedly. We solve this problem by regularly adding fertilizer containing phosphorus to amend the deficiency and strengthen the soil. Given the high concentration of phosphorus in bone it is not surprising that bone ash was one of the earliest sources of phosphorus for fertilizer.
White phosphorus, the first of the two elemental forms to be isolated historically, gives off a white glow when exposed to oxygen, leading to the term “phosphorescence.” This phenomenon was later renamed “chemiluminescence” since it was the result of a chemical reaction. White phosphorus was also once used in making matches, but as it was highly toxic and adversely affected workers, it was replaced with red phosphorus, which accomplished the same purpose without posing any hazards.
More information about phosphorus may be found at http://www.ipni.net/ppiweb/ppibase.nsf/$webindex/article=88446F25852568F20064198A148EEE97