Gardening could be described as bending nature to our will. It’s the selection, planting, shaping, pruning, training, pollinating, pinching, grafting, thinning out and harvesting of plants to suit our requirements. But what happens above the ground is only the tip of the iceberg – half the story. How much more goes on beneath the earth that we never get to see?
In a recent study, a team at the University of Nottingham were curious to find out. Using cutting-edge imaging techniques (and a pile of seeds from Thompson & Morgan) they investigated a variety of plant roots without having to dig them up. The results are out of this world!
For the first time, these X-ray CT images showcase the diversity and complexity of plant root systems in their undisturbed soil environment. What no-one was expecting, is just how strikingly beautiful these images of everyday plants, vegetables and flowers actually are.
Why study plant roots?
Producing safe, nutritious food to feed the world’s growing population is a huge challenge for the future. We need to develop new, resilient crops, and do do that, we need better knowledge.
When we properly understand how plants grow, and have identified how specific features (e.g. root depth, thickness, angle or number of lateral roots) can be improved, this knowledge can be applied to allow more efficient food production. Particularly in regions with limited water or nutrient supply.
Finding out what happens beneath the soil could help eliminate hunger and famine around the globe. But in the quest for scientific breakthrough, it’s the beauty and resilience of nature that has been revealed in these never-before seen images – the secret life of plants.
Check out the full directory of images of plant root systems at The Hidden Half website, and follow their Twitter feed at @UoNHiddenHalf to get updates on their work. But for now, just scroll down and enjoy some of the incredible pictures the boffins have shared with us.