CSCH – Grocery Store Botany – Roots

CSCH – Grocery Store Botany – Roots


For those of you just getting interested in
botany, and you just can’t wait for spring, one of the best places to start looking for
the different plant parts and botanical anatomy, is your local produce aisle in the grocery
store. So we’re gonna talk now a little bit about roots. Now, there’s a lot of different types of roots, and especially the ones that we eat or ones that we’re usually pretty familiar with. The first one we’re gonna talk about is taproots. Now, taproots – everyone’s probably seen before if they’ve had a garden. Those are the weeds that go really, really deep
and are difficult to pull up. In the case of our vegetables, it’s very convenient for
us because taproots are used to store food – store nutrients for the plants. So it’s
often in biennial plants, so plants that come back for two years, or perennial plants that
come back year after year after year. And they’re usually shaped either like this little
carrot – so they’re very cylindrical and long, or like these radishes – quite wide, quite
fat. But you can see that for the plant’s uses, it’s extremely convenient. It stores
a lot of starch, a lot of sugars, that they use to live on throughout the winter and make
seeds for the next year. Taproots that we eat include things like radishes, parsnips,
beets, carrots (of course), and one that you don’t usually find in the grocery stores,
but because we live in kind of a hip, alternative sort of a city, is this one, which is burdock.
And that’s one of our common weeds that we see around the front range and throughout North America. So we’re gonna talk about a different type of root. In this case, actually two types of roots. One is a rhizome, which is technically a modified root. And another kind of modified root, which is a tuber. So, let’s start with the rhizome. This particular one everyone probably recognizes as ginger, which is Zinger officinale is the genus and
species name for this. This is what we technically call a rhizome. Which, a rhizome, depending on the definition that you look at, is a few different things. But the main
one you’ll find is that it’s an underground, modified stem. So again, that’s an underground, modified stem is typically what we call a rhizome. In this case, that rhizome is actually
full of medicinal properties. The ginger that you see here, usually what it will do, is
it will lay on the ground – the roots just underneath the surface of the soil. Excuse me, the rhizome just underneath the surface of the soil, with large leaves going up to
four feet tall, growing up out of the top. So what you’ll often, growing off of that
rhizome, is something called a tuber, which is a modified, again, depending on the research you look at, it’s a modified stem or rhizome, and it’s particularly used for storage. Which, for us, is wonderful because we take advantage of that when we eat a lot of our starchy vegetables. In this case we’ve got a sweet potato, which is that convolvulaceae, morning glory family.
And in this case, a potato, which is solanaceae, or our nightshade or tomato family. But these
are both examples of tubers. So these modified root structures are used to store energy for
the plant for the next season. Ones that we commonly see on the front range of Colorado,
are things like our really early-blooming claytonia, or spring beauties. Or you also
see them in a really common one that’s used, or that’s seen a lot in ethnobotanical publications,
called biscuitroot, or lomacium. That’s another example of a tuber. There’s a lot of different
plants that produce tubers for storage for year-round growth.

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