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Root Hairs in Plants: Function & Definition

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has a Master's degree in Zoology and a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

In this lesson, you will learn about root hairs, which are the structures that allow a plant to get water and nutrients from the soil. They are a delicate but necessary component of a plant's overall root system.

Definition

You may not know it but you have likely eaten many roots in your lifetime. Carrots, beets, and turnips are actually the root of the plant, growing deep into the ground to provide nutrient storage and stability. These types of roots are called taproots and are one long, vertical root that grows straight down into the ground.

But even a taproot is more complex than just a single structure. Taproots give rise to lateral roots, which also store sugar and other nutrients that the plant will need later. These root branches also provide extra support for the plant, helping to anchor it even more securely in the ground.

Together, these various root parts compose an overall root system. And while they are responsible for much of the support and food storage, the actual absorption of nutrients comes from root hairs, which are found at the root tips. Root hairs are found in large quantities in these areas and greatly increase the surface area of a root.

root hairs

Function

Root hairs are a very simple structure and can occur on the root tip in the thousands! They are basically an extension of the root's external cells. They are very short lived and are constantly being replaced.

Root hairs act like a sponge underground. They absorb nutrients and water which are sent through the tip of the plant's root. Because there are so many root hairs on each root, this increases the amount of water and nutrients the plant can absorb from the soil.

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