February 11, 2022 2 min read
Plants use roots as an anchor to the ground, or to tree branches, walls or other surfaces.
They transport water and nutrients into the plant, the tips of the root take in the water, moving up the plant to the leaves where it will evaporate from the surface. It’s like having a drink through a straw.
Roots also act as a storage space for nutrients, starches, and sugars. Examples of those plants that store a large amount in the roots are root vegetables such as carrots or parsnips.
Roots are an essential component in soil and are part of a network that contributes to soil health. As they grow, sugars and other compounds are released into the soil, making them available for use by other organisms. The region in the soil where roots are releasing these compounds is termed the rhizosphere. Here, a population of microbes are directly influenced by those compounds, maintaining a healthy balance of organisms that will increase carbon and improve nutrient cycling in the soil. Even when roots die, they continue to play their part, by being eaten by the soil microbes and insects.
Food. We’ve already mentioned carrots and parsnips, but there’s also sweet potatoes and beetroot and many other delicious roots we have in our diets.
On a similar theme, roots are also used to spice our food. Ginger root and liquorice are a couple of examples.
Natural dyes can be obtained from the roots of many plants.
And the final use for roots we’re mentioning today is medicine. Some examples include marshmallow (which can be used to soothe burns or constipation), turmeric (which can be used to alleviate stomach problems), ginger (another one for upset stomachs), valerian (used for treating sleep disorders) and echinacea (to help against cold and flu symptoms).
Even in such a brief summary it’s astonishing how important roots are to the plant, to us and to the ecosystem as a whole.