an environmental factor that when absent or in low quantities limits the growth. abundance. or distribution of a plant.

limiting factor (Wikipedia)

A limiting factor is a variable of a system that causes a noticeable change in output or another measure of a type of system. The limiting factor is in a pyramid shape of organisms going up from the producers to consumers and so on. A factor not limiting over a certain domain of starting conditions may yet be limiting over another domain of starting conditions, including that of the factor.

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