Tree Talk: Got roots?

The most misunderstood and overlooked part of a tree is the root system that hides beneath the ground.

Most people think trees have giant tap roots that grow deep into the ground to hold the tree up. They think they “saved” a tree just because they didn’t cut it down. They call leaves “green waste” and haul them to the dump or burn them. These beliefs could not be further from the truth.

If people could see the roots, or understand them, they would make better choices for healthier and safer trees.

A tree’s roots are essential for support, intake of water and minerals, storage of sugars and synthesis of compounds. When the seed of most trees germinates, the first thing to grow is the tap root. In the first year, the tap root may grow 3 to 5 feet down or to the side in search of water and minerals, while the above-ground portion of the tree is less than a foot tall.

As the tree grows, new roots emerge near ground level and grow vigorously outwards. As the tree matures, these lateral roots outgrow the tap root, making it indistinguishable. A few of these, the heart roots, enlarge and grow as deep as the tap root to provide support before branching laterally.

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