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Saturday, 23 February 2008

An Introduction to Tree Biology: Roots

I find trees amazing. I find all plant life pretty amazing, but trees additionally impress me because they are more complex in order to maintain and eventually dispose of their stature.

I have received a vote on the poll asking for more information on tree biology and am therefore going to do an introduction to trees: their parts and functions.

We begin with tree roots.

(Image Credit: The Arbor Centre)To start I would like to dispel a common myth regarding tree roots. Actually a few myths: conifer tree roots are no more shallow than broadleaf tree roots, a trees’ root system is not a mirror of its’ crown and not all trees have or can maintain a tap root, due to the conditions below ground.

Early morning mist on an old Dying Tree with very matted roots.

(Image Credit: waterloo100)There are several different types of tree root systems however the development of trees’ roots, the same as the development of the tree above ground, is not only driven by its’ genetics but by its’ environmental stimulus; how favourable its’ surroundings above and below ground are.

Tree root systems generally consist of anchorage roots, the larger roots that travel downwards however not usually in excess of 3m, and feeder roots, the finer string like mass of roots that are predominantly found within the top 60cm of the soil where they can successfully access water and nutrients, in an aerobic environment (i.e. with oxygen).

Tree roots have three main functions: they provide water and nutrients via the feeder roots, they provide anchorage therefore aiding stability, and they are used to store food stocks generated during photosynthesis.

Tree root systems are generally mature before the tree and there is a direct relationship between the developed root system and the size and stature of the tree. It is a communication that determines the trees potential if left to natural development.

Loss of or damage to root systems once a tree has begun to mature or reached maturity can be disastrous, and symptoms of root damage are most commonly the development of deadwood, often directly above the area of root damage.

The bottom line with trees, like the rest of nature they are designed to adapt. This tree, either layed as part of a hedge and neglected or failed though damage or disease, appears to have successfully layered. It is expected that the stem on the ground has developed a root system and at some point if required the connection with the main plant could be severed to leave a new specimen.


  1. Fantastic info here, I'm so glad you are doing this. Three good pictures to go with the lesson as well.

    I have just been reading Dicks blog..

    He as come across some form of illuminance on a tree root... if you get the time have a look it is interesting. I have seen similar but what I saw was I think due more to a grey/green Lichen than a moss or fungi.

  2. Hi

    Great pictures and interesting things, I like trees.
    I see Tom already asked the question before I was here.
    Maybe you know what it is, but I think it won't be visible in the dark. Thank you.

  3. I have been show your blog off to my mate Big Peter... he loved this.. Peter dose not have his own P.C. or understands the workings of then that much. But Pete knows a great post when he sees one.

    He as got a picture today of a twisted tree trunk.. it looks like a few trunks have grown together..

  4. Hey Tom! I am glad you liked the post and thanks for the blog tips, excellent pictures and interesting white stuff!

    I have left Dick a comment saying there are some fungi which are this bright but I would need to see it closer and will check the books. I hear you have seen if before; have you touched it, is it dry or moist?

    Anyway, I will do another tree biology post soon and again am glad you enjoyed it. I have a busy few weeks and 10 days work in Scotland approaching but I will get a post together asap and can pretty much guarantee I will bring back some interesting photos from the Highlands!

    Hey Dick and welcome. I have left you a post and briefly explained my thoughts on your picture above. Very interesting what ever it is and a lot of it!

  5. Thought you might like a look at these roots which Dick is showing today.12/03/


  6. Great info and wonderful photos. Very nice blog. I have enjoyed reading the information.

  7. Tom thanks for the tip! I did have a look and have left a comment.

    Travis, welcome and thank you!

  8. I have a tree like those ones at home and that's hard it's a big tree and its roots is breaking my home floor I think I should cut it.

  9. It's great to see a blog of this quality. I learned a lot of new things and I'm looking forward to see more like this. Thank you.

  10. Hi, nice post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will certainly be subscribing to your blog.

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