This study measured total osmolarity and concentrations of NH(4)(+), NO(3)(-), K(+), soluble carbohydrates, and organic acids in maize seminal roots as a function of distance from the apex, and NH(4)(+) and NO(3)(-) in xylem sap for plants receiving NH(4)(+) or NO(3)(-) as a sole N-source, NH(4)(+) plus NO(3)(-), or no nitrogen at all. The disparity between net deposition rates and net exogenous influx of NH(4)(+) indicated that growing cells imported NH(4)(+) from more mature tissue, whereas more mature root tissues assimilated or translocated a portion of the NH(4)(+) absorbed. Net root NO(3)(-) influx under Ca(NO(3))(2) nutrition was adequate to account for pools found in the growth zone and provided twice as much as was deposited locally throughout the non-growing tissue. In contrast, net root NO(3)(-) influx under NH(4)NO(3) was less than the local deposition rate in the growth zone, indicating that additional NO(3)(-) was imported or metabolically produced. The profile of NO(3)(-) deposition rate in the growth zone, however, was similar for the plants receiving Ca(NO(3))(2) or NH(4)NO(3). These results suggest that NO(3)(-) may serve a major role as an osmoticant for supporting root elongation in the basal part of the growth zone and maintaining root function in the young mature tissues.