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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: June 2012

Chapter 16 - The root


Perspective: evolution of the root

The anatomy of the root reflects its origin, its subterranean environment, and its function. The first vascular plants (Rhyniophyta) lacked roots, and absorption of water and nutrients was facilitated by rhizoids. Roots evolved in the seed plant clade (rhyniophytes, trimerophytes, progymnosperms, seed plants) as well as in lycophytes, sphenophytes, and ferns in response to the pressures of a land environment, enhanced by increasing plant size. During their evolution important functions such as anchorage, absorption and transport of minerals and water, and storage of photosynthate were established. In some ways, however, roots changed relatively little through time. This is the result of the subterranean environment in which they evolved, and the fact that roots were, thus, not exposed to the same intense selection pressures as stems.

The seed plant root (Fig. 16.1a, b) is considered by most researchers to be an evolutionarily modified stem although it has also been suggested that it might be an entirely new organ that evolved independently of the stem. The predominant view is supported by the fact that the structure of the root of extant plants is remarkably similar to the anatomy of the stem of their ancestors. Even in many plants with stems that feature specialized siphonostelic or eustelic structure, the roots are protostelic (Fig. 16.1b), also a feature of the stems of very primitive plants. Roots with central piths have an alternate arrangement of xylem and phloem that may reflect a protostelic origin.

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