Have you seen some plants growing from trees or those with roots protruding from the ground? Several plant species are able to survive like that because they have aerial roots.
Aerial roots differ from typical roots as they frequently appear on vines and creepers. These roots act as support anchors that bind the plant to structures such as walls or trees.
They are also able to absorb moisture from humid air, rain, and nutrients from other trees or the ground.
Aerial roots are almost always adventitious roots. Adventitious roots don’t develop from root tissue but rather, sprout from nodes, stems, or branches.
Plants that grow in swamps or marshes are rooted in the ground but in order to release and absorb gasses from the air, they have above-ground breathing roots.
Epiphytes on the other hand don’t shoot up from the soil and use other plants for support.
We’ll take a look at some of the most popular plants with noticeable aerial roots, so you can identify them the next time you see them.
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1. Pothos (Epipremnum Aureum)
There is a wide selection of Pothos species that are grown as indoor or outdoor plants, all of which are epiphytes. Pothos plants have developed aerial roots that assist them to hold onto structures and surfaces.
These roots offer more than just support. In fact, they provide the plant with moisture from the surrounding atmosphere. These roots begin as thick lumps on the stems of the plant and will turn into brown tendrils as they develop.
The Pothos’ aerial roots are generally spaced out along the stems of the plant and remain disbursed.
All these roots take off in different directions. Some grow upwards, while others search for structures below the plant.
Learn more about Pothos Plants in Overall.
2. Spider Orchids (Brassia)
What sets Spider Orchids apart are the uniquely shaped sepals that give them a distinct shape that is spider-like.
This spectacular epiphyte likes to grow on the branches of trees or crevices of other structures. It is bright in color (mostly in hues of yellow) and has black spots.
Like most epiphytes, it uses its aerial roots to anchor in different structures and to bask in atmospheric moisture. The roots are usually thick in appearance and are covered in velamen.
3. Hoya Carnosa (Hoya)
The majority of the Hoya genus are epiphytes that find their homes on the branches of trees and therefore have aerial roots. These roots offer support for the Hoya plant as it makes its way across structures.
The pink and white star-shaped flowers of the Hoya Carnosa have a sweet scent that travels through the air. You’ll smell the plant before it comes to view.
The roots of the Hoya plant absorb all the necessary nutrients from debris and moisture in the air.
In an area with high levels of humidity, the Hoya plant will produce more aerial roots. Their roots are dark green, and they tend to grow downwards, from underneath stems.
4. Bromeliads (Bromeliaceae)
The Bromeliad plant consists of both terrestrial and epiphytic plant variants. The epiphytic variant of bromeliads naturally has aerial roots. These roots are used for securing the plants to the bark of trees or natural structures.
Epiphytic Bromeliads, on the other hand, are able to absorb water and nutrients through the hair-like structures on their leaves called “Trichomes”.
The aerial roots of the plant also play an important part in absorbing nutrients from the air.
The epiphytic Bromeliad’s aerial roots grow from the base of the plant and have a noticeably thin and brownish-orange color.
Unlike orchid aerial roots that have scattered and protruding roots, the roots of the Bromeliads are rather densely scattered around the base of the plant.
5. Tillandsias (Tillandsia)
Tillandsias are epiphytes or “air plants” and they grow on the trunks and branches of trees. Some epiphytes are parasitic and drain the host plant of nutrients but this type of plant isn’t.
They originate from the mountainous and forest areas of northern Mexico and other varieties hail from the southeastern parts of the United States.
Most epiphytes are able to absorb everything that they need from their aerial roots, however, the Tillandsias roots only offer support and act as anchors to secure the plant.
The leaves of the plant gather all their nutrients from the sun, air moisture, and debris.
6. Ferns (Tracheophyta)
Dense tropical rainforests are usually filled with green foliage from perennial, flowerless, vascular fern plants. Ferns have a wide array of species and several of which are either terrestrial or epiphytes.
The epiphytic species of ferns have aerial roots that are used to secure the plant to trees, structures, and other surfaces.
Ferns have long green stems and vascular tissue that allows them to distribute nutrients to the whole plant.
7. Mangrove Tree (Rhizophora)
Mangrove trees are tropical trees usually taking root along river beds, swamps, or brackish water. Because of the nature of their habitat, they have naturally adapted to water-saturated soil.
Mangroves are tough plants and are designed to be salt-tolerant. They have complex root and salt-filtration systems to battle against saltwater and wave actions. They are also able to survive the low-oxygen conditions of waterlogged soil.
Some species of Mangroves trees, such as the Red Mangrove, grow prop roots from their trunks and branches. These prop roots are a form of an aerial root, and support the tree in soft soil conditions.
They also provide the tree with a necessary source of oxygen.
Other species of Mangrove trees use vertical air roots, these roots are noticeably seen around the plant and act as an extension of their underground root to absorb oxygen from the air.
8. Phalaenopsis (Orchidaceae)
The Phalaenopsis orchid or otherwise known as the Moth orchid is an epiphytic plant. These multi-colored orchids naturally occur attached to tropical trees. Their aerial roots attach themselves to host trees and structures to absorb nutrients from the air.
Their aerial roots are easy to spot. They are white tendrils that grow in every direction and are covered in a spongy tissue called velamen.
Velamen protects the aerial roots as its cells transport water that is absorbed by the stele of the orchid. Velamen has a white appearance when dry and turns green when wet.
9. Banyan Fig Tree (Ficus Benghalensis)
In terms of occupied land space, the Banyan Fig Tree is sure to rank as one of the world’s biggest trees as it grows to “strangle” up a host tree in a span of years.
This tree is known as a parasitic plant.
It germinates and starts out as a seed on the branches of other trees. It then inhabits that tree and sends its aerial roots downwards from the branches.
The aerial roots smother the tree by surrounding the base of the plant and once these aerial roots reach the ground, they begin to dig into the soil.
Nourished by nutrients from the soil, these aerial roots then quickly turn into thick and woody roots known as prop roots as it uses the host tree for support. Soon enough, the host tree dies.
10. Pandanus (Pandanus Tectorius)
The Pandanus tree has palm-like stems, and long palm-shaped leaves, which are densely packed together.
The Pandanus genus of plants has similarities to that of Mangrove trees, as it commonly thrives along the banks of rivers and swamps.
The Pandanus tree has noticeable thick and lengthy external aerial roots that are an extension of the tree’s underground roots. The aerial roots help to support and secure the plant in place, especially in soft soil areas.
The aerial roots also play a critical role in supplying air to the roots underground. They eventually reach the ground and start to function as normal roots, absorbing nutrients and water from the soil.
11. Umbrella plant (Schefflera)
The Umbrella plant is a tropical plant that is often used as a houseplant. These plant types naturally grow aerial roots. Their aerial roots are colored yellow and are rather thick in width and lengthy.
The Umbrella plant will start to develop aerial roots from its stems. Its aerial roots will only start to form once the plant has established its roots.
Once the aerial roots of the plant have developed they will absorb moisture from the air. Umbrella plants that are grown in areas with high levels of air humidity, encourage healthy roots and healthy plants.
Final Thoughts on Popular Plants With Aerial Roots
Aerial roots are types of roots that grow on the above-ground parts of a plant. They can affix themselves on supporting structures such as trellises and walls where they are able to absorb moisture and nutrients, just like underground roots.
They aid in a plant’s air exchange, propagation, stability, and nourishment. Another plant that you might consider which are not included on the list is the Monstera Deliciosa.
The Monstera Deliciosa is considered a vining plant. Installing a moss pole will allow you to keep its aerial roots in one place rather than all over the place.
Apart from aerial roots, this plant also has aerial-subterranean roots and lateral-subterranean roots. Provide it with bright, indirect sunlight and you are sure to keep it happy. If you live in a place with not much sun, try using a grow light.
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