10 Facts on Roots

By Philip McIntosh
Published: August 1, 2016 | Last updated: April 21, 2021 04:23:23
Key Takeaways

The roots of plants do the important work of bringing in water and nutrients so the plant can grow.

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  1. The roots of plants usually go unseen (unless you are running an NFT or aeroponic system), but they are down there doing the important work of bringing in water and nutrients so the plant can grow.
  2. Tap roots, typified in the carrot, are thick and fleshy with a single main axis, or in some cases one or two side branches.
  3. Fibrous roots as seen on tomato plants consist of a network of thin, highly branched filaments that grow outwards in many directions.
  4. Although we are familiar with the green, photosynthetic tissues of leaves, in vitro, hairy root cultures of a number of species will develop chloroplasts and turn green when exposed to light.
  5. Not all roots structures exist underground. Buttress roots (Ficus) and stilt roots (walking palm) have a tough outer covering that provides above-ground support.
  6. Plants living in dry environments often have deep roots systems so they can access water far below the surface.
  7. The roots of plants living in the tundra and in grassland prairies are generally much shallower.
  8. What plant species has the largest root system? It might be the Aspen tree. Aspens are a clonal species with all stems connected together by a single, massive, underground root system.
  9. What about the deepest roots? A specimen of Boscia albitrunca (Shepherd’s tree) in South Africa was found to have roots extending downward to a distance of 223 ft., but there are probably deeper ones out there.
  10. Some plants have found a way to survive without roots. Members of the genus Cuscuta (dodder) are parasites that attach to the stems of other plants and extend tendrils (haustoria) into their host to extract sustenance. Once established, any root system it may have had upon germination withers away.


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Written by Philip McIntosh | Science & Technology Writer, Teacher

Profile Picture of Philip McIntosh
Philip McIntosh is a science and technology writer with a bachelor’s degree in botany and chemistry and a master’s degree in biological science. During his graduate research, he used hydroponic techniques to grow axenic plants. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he teaches mathematics.

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