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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Identify the two types of root systems
  • Describe the three zones of the root tip and summarize the role of each zone in root growth
  • Describe the structure of the root
  • List and describe examples of modified roots

The roots of seed plants have three major functions: anchoring the plant to the soil, absorbing water and minerals and transporting them upwards, and storing the products of photosynthesis. Some roots are modified to absorb moisture and exchange gases. Most roots are underground. Some plants, however, also have adventitious roots , which emerge above the ground from the shoot.

Types of root systems

Root systems are mainly of two types ( [link] ). Dicots have a tap root system, while monocots have a fibrous root system. A tap root system    has a main root that grows down vertically, and from which many smaller lateral roots arise. Dandelions are a good example; their tap roots usually break off when trying to pull these weeds, and they can regrow another shoot from the remaining root). A tap root system penetrates deep into the soil. In contrast, a fibrous root system    is located closer to the soil surface, and forms a dense network of roots that also helps prevent soil erosion (lawn grasses are a good example, as are wheat, rice, and corn). Some plants have a combination of tap roots and fibrous roots. Plants that grow in dry areas often have deep root systems, whereas plants growing in areas with abundant water are likely to have shallower root systems.

 Top photo shows carrots, which are thick tap roots that have thin lateral roots extending from them. Bottom photo shows grasses with a fibrous root system beneath the soil.
(a) Tap root systems have a main root that grows down, while (b) fibrous root systems consist of many small roots. (credit b: modification of work by “Austen Squarepants”/Flickr)

Root growth and anatomy

Root growth begins with seed germination. When the plant embryo emerges from the seed, the radicle of the embryo forms the root system. The tip of the root is protected by the root cap    , a structure exclusive to roots and unlike any other plant structure. The root cap is continuously replaced because it gets damaged easily as the root pushes through soil. The root tip can be divided into three zones: a zone of cell division, a zone of elongation, and a zone of maturation and differentiation ( [link] ). The zone of cell division is closest to the root tip; it is made up of the actively dividing cells of the root meristem. The zone of elongation is where the newly formed cells increase in length, thereby lengthening the root. Beginning at the first root hair is the zone of cell maturation where the root cells begin to differentiate into special cell types. All three zones are in the first centimeter or so of the root tip.

 This lateral section of a root tip is divided into three areas: an upper area of maturation, a middle area of elongation, and a lower area of cell division at the root tip. In the area of maturation, root hairs extend from the main root and cells are large and rectangular. The area of elongation has no root hairs, and the cells are still rectangular, but somewhat smaller. A vascular cylinder runs through the center of the root in the area of maturation and the area of elongation. In the area of cell division the cells are much smaller. Cells within this area are called the apical meristem. A layer of cells called the root cap surrounds the apical meristem.
A longitudinal view of the root reveals the zones of cell division, elongation, and maturation. Cell division occurs in the apical meristem.

The root has an outer layer of cells called the epidermis, which surrounds areas of ground tissue and vascular tissue. The epidermis provides protection and helps in absorption. Root hairs , which are extensions of root epidermal cells, increase the surface area of the root, greatly contributing to the absorption of water and minerals.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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