Roots & Stems: Structure & Function

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  • 0:01 Plant Structures
  • 0:28 Functions of Roots
  • 1:28 Structure of Roots
  • 2:51 Stem
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

You have probably pulled a plant out of the ground by its stalk (stem) to reveal the jumbled mess of roots below, but do you know how roots and stems help a plant stay alive? Learn what is inside roots and stems and what they do.

Plant Structures

Carrot and turnip

Did you know that this carrot and this turnip are actually roots? They grow underground and are referred to as root vegetables. So, you probably think this potato is a root too.

A potato

Functions of Roots

Let's start at the bottom with the roots. Roots grow underground. While some roots, like carrots, can get big and orange, you probably picture roots as those spindly fibers that extend down into the soil. Roots are important to the plant's survival for many reasons. One of their most important jobs is to absorb water and nutrients from the soil. Just like you, plants need to take in water and nutrients to stay alive. Of course, plants don't have mouths to eat and drink, so they draw nutrients and moisture in through their roots. Because roots have the ability to spread throughout the soil, they anchor the plant to the ground. This prevents the plant from getting whisked away when the wind blows or the rain water runs. Roots also store food for the plant. Root vegetables, like carrots, store so much food that it can feed you.

Structure of Roots

Each part of a root helps the root carry out its functions. The root cap found at the far tip of the root protects the root as it continues to grow underground. Root hairs are small thread-like structures that help the root absorb water and minerals from the soil.

Once these substances enter the root hairs, there is a tissue that transports the water and minerals through the plant called xylem. Xylem is made up of connected vessels that quickly move water and dissolved minerals up the plant, almost like a straw sucking up liquid. This fast transport system can zip water from the roots to the farthest leaves in no time flat, so I like to think of it as the 'zippy xylem.' Speaking of the leaves, you might recall from a different lesson that leaves use photosynthesis to make food for the plant. That food needs to be transported to the plant cells so they can use it for energy. This is the job of phloem. Therefore, phloem is a tissue that transports food through the plant. You might want to think of the F-sound that starts the words phloem and food to help recall this term.

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