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Root Structure Characteristics

Roots are the first structures to develop in a growing plant.

Roots anchor the plant in the soil.
Roots absorb water and mineral salts from the soil.
Roots may store food.
Roots form a passage way for water and dissolved substances from the root into the stem and also for foods from the stem down into the root.

Critical Site Products specializes in production of local-source native plants using the air pruned method (APM). APM-grown plants develop significantly more root mass than those grown with other methods. This larger root mass allows faster plant growth resulting in a healthier and more responsive plant.

Each native plant's root system has evolved to perform best in the environment where it is usually found. Because of this, CSP also emphasizes the importance of selecting native plants that have the appropriate root structure for your landscape's needs.

These are the most common root structure characteristics:


A root system which contains one large, primary vertical root that spawns many smaller horizontal root structures. By penetrating deep in the soil, taproots provide stability and store nutrients. Plants with large taproots should not be used when the soil depth will be very shallow. Examples include coneflowers, milkweeds, indigos, as well as certain trees and shrubs.


Fibrous root systems consist of many fine hairlike roots that form a thick mat below the surface. These root systems are very effective at water and mineral absorption, as well as plant stabilization. Fibrous rooted plants are very effective at preventing soil erosion and promoting slope stability because of the formation of fibrous root systems near the soil surface. Examples include native grasses, sedges, and rushes as well as most colonizing wildflowers.


Rhizomes are horizontal stems that grow below the surface and help a plant reproduce vegetatively. Plants with rhizomes will colonize or spread laterally, which can be a benefit if the intention is to fill in a planting area completely, or a detriment if a plant is meant to stay within a confined area. Examples include some grasses as well as Lily of the Valley, Iris, and Solomon's Seal.


Stolons, or runners, are not roots but are above ground horizontal stems which help plants spread vegetatively, in much the same way as rhizomes. Use stoloniferous species only in areas where it is acceptable for them to spread freely. Examples of plants with stolons include Buffalo Grass.


Adventitious roots do not grow from a plant's root system but instead sprout above ground, most commonly from stems. These root structures often increase plant stability or allow the plant to reproduce vegetatively. Plants with adventitious root systems will readily spread along the surface and should not be planted in areas where the vegetation is intended to be confined within a specific area. Examples include Rose Verbena.

We have identified the root structure characteristic for each native plant in our database. The root structure is an important characteristic that should be considered in selecting the right native plant for right place in your landscape. Utilize our Plant Search feature to narrow your selection of plants for any landscape project to help create beautiful, successful landscapes... naturally.