If dirt is the ecstatic skin of the earth, then roots are its joyful frolicking companion. And yet, to us, they are reclusive, hiding beneath the soil, poking into our consciousness only when we trip on an exposed roots. Naturalist Ian Worley, once pointed out the obvious: roots only grow below ground. In other words, the only time we encounter roots is when something – like erosion or a tree falling over – has displaced the earth in which the roots developed. Yet despite their easy-to-forget nature, roots are essential to a tree’s vitality in a few key ways:
- Anchor a tree in place
- Absorb and transport water and nutrients
- Produce hormones to communicate to the crown about soil conditions
- Store energy
There are other more specialized functions that some roots perform, and there are also adventitious roots, structures produced by stems or leaves that develop into roots. We’ll cover root anatomy, some cool root adaptations that different species have, their role in reproduction, and what happens when roots don’t do job #1.