Login

Aerial Roots: Definition, Function & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Aggregate Fruit: Definition & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 Aerial Roots
  • 1:25 What Makes Them Different?
  • 2:14 Plants with Aerial Roots
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terry Dunn

Terry has a master's degree in environmental communications and has taught in a variety of settings.

Aerial roots are a strange variation of plant roots, serving some of the same purposes as other roots, but with a twist. Here you will learn what aerial roots are, what types of plants have them, and what makes them unusual.

Aerial Roots

There's probably no creepier story about roots than the one of the strangler fig tree. The story starts when a strangler fig seed is dropped by an animal into the branches of the host tree, where it quickly establishes itself before starting to send roots towards the ground. But, those roots are not just intended to get water and nourishment from the soil. The strangler fig roots surround the host tree trunk, becoming thicker and stronger, eventually squeezing the life out of the host tree. Then, as the host tree rots within, the sturdy strangler fig roots become the trunk of the free-standing fig tree.

Although there are several types of roots in the plant world, they all share some basic purposes:

  • They absorb water and dissolved minerals
  • They store food
  • They keep the plant from falling over

The type of roots you're probably most familiar with are the kind that are actually rooted in the soil. You've seen them if you've ever pulled weeds, repotted a plant, or noticed what a tree base looks like when it's toppled over. But there is another type of root, aerial roots, which is the type of root the strangler fig uses to take over its host. Aerial roots are roots that are fully or partially exposed to the air. They do attach to something, at least eventually, like trees, bark, or rocks, but they never become fully submerged in the soil.

What Makes Aerial Roots Different?

The roots you're most familiar with grow from the root tissue of the plant. There are many root hairs, which are tiny, finger-like projections that increase the surface area of the root system so that a lot of water and minerals can be absorbed. But because they're protected by the soil, they're not so likely to dry out.

Aerial roots, on the other hand, are a type of adventitious root. They grow not from root tissue, but from the plant's stem or leaf tissues. Because they're exposed to the air, they're more likely to dry out and are usually found in plants that live in wet environments, like tropical rain forests. Some aerial roots even have chlorophyll (the plant chemical that helps to convert the sun's energy into food for the plant) and can photosynthesize. Plants with underground roots have little reason to have chlorophyll since they are not exposed to the sun.

Plants With Aerial Roots

Aerial roots do some interesting things in the plants that have them. Climbing vines are one category of plants that often have aerial roots. These roots help the vines attach to and climb on different surfaces. Ivy is a good example of a vine with some aerial roots.

Epiphytes are another group of plants that have aerial roots. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, but don't harm them. They get their water and nutrients from the air and only use the other plant as an anchor. Orchids and bromeliads are good examples of epiphytes. There are also hemiepiphytes, which start their life as an epiphyte, but eventually their roots reach the soil and take hold. The strangler fig is a good example of a hemiepiphyte.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support