The roots of a plant are normally below ground – out of sight and generally out of mind. Little is known about the actual purpose or the structure of plants root system and it is generally the last area of interest when trying to discover why a plant is ailing. As it happens, more often than not plant roots fare better than other parts in relation to diseases and pests.
But, problems with the root system often materialize - are recognized visually - too late; or are too difficult to diagnose; and even more difficult to treat. This is one of the reasons why we should take time out and understand the importance of plants roots.
Unless you are a vegetable gardener, or maybe an orchid grower, roots seem not to be as important as other parts of the plant. But they are equally as important as all other parts of the plant, Stems; Leaves; Flowers; or Fruit!
Other than in gardening, the ‘root’ is seen as having a most important function - as in ‘the root of all evil’; ‘the root cause of a problem’; ‘the root of a chord in music’ and of course mathematical ‘roots’!
Roots and Germination
Next time you sow a seed, note that upon germination, it is the root (radicle) that emerges first, both to anchor the plant-to be into the ground, and also to start seeking moisture and nutrition.
Only then can the plant seedling stem (hypocotyl) begin its arduous task of breaking the surface and producing the leaves which are essential to photosynthesis. If this new root fails, or decays for any reason, the seed cannot complete the germination process of developing into a plant. This is known as ‘pre-emergence’(damping off) – not to be confused with the fungal damping-off disease which affects young seedlings after emergence. The plants roots function is totally important for the development of all plants.
It is little wonder that Charles Darwin equated this ‘radicle’ to the brain of the plant!
The first root to appear upon seedling growth, will soon develop – given suitable conditions, and may end up as the basic multi-branched root systems that we associate with trees and most shrubs, or fibrous root systems that we note with Rhododendrons, Fibrous Root Begonias. The function of both systems is ensure anchorage and moisture location and uptake from the soil.
Other common plant root systems include Tap Roots, which are modified as storage units for starchy substances and as such are useful crops for the vegetable gardener – carrots and parsnips being prime examples. Brassicas (cabbages) also tend to have an initial tap root, but this is probably for anchorage purposes for the relatively large canopy of foliage above!
There are many types of roots other than the basic roots described here, having a multitude of uses, dependent upon plant type.
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