Most gardeners are accustomed to growing and interacting with plants that establish through roots. But did it occur to you that there are plants that can grow without roots?
How do these plants develop and survive without roots?
It is scientifically established that roots perform vital functions in a plant, such as taking water and minerals from the soil to the stem and other parts. Additionally, roots anchor the plant and provide support throughout its growing period.
This article answers this bemusing question and brings you some plants of this kind.
5 Rootless Plants That Thrive On Our Planet
Most of these plants employ other mechanisms to take in nutrients and water, as we will find out in different sections of the article. Let’s get down to the list.
Algae is a known name referring to a diverse group of aquatic organisms that synthesize light energy to produce carbohydrates, a process known as photosynthesis.
On the contrary, the plant is not similar to other highly differentiated plants, lacking true roots, stems, and leaves. Instead, algae absorb nutrients as dissolved substances in a process known as osmotrophy or phagotrophy, which involves engulfing bacteria.
The plant exists in various aquatic environments, including fresh water and saltwater. Algae live in colonies as single microscopic cells, although they can also exist as macroscopic and multicellular.
Besides loving aquatic environments, algae can also survive on land, where you will find them growing in tree trunks, animal fur, and desert crusts.
The other group of plants that grow without roots is the bryophytes. These include the moss and liverworts. You will find them growing in wet environments as clumps and lacking flowers.
Now that they lack roots, what method do bryophytes use to absorb water and nutrients?
Is the presence of rootlike growth called rhizoids the key? No, it isn’t as they anchor the plant but don’t transport water.
The bryophytes dry up quickly, having no mechanism of water transportation to the plant. Despite this, they have found a way to adapt by living in moist places.
The other plant that adds to this group is the Hornworts. They lack roots and use the rhizoids for anchoring. Another type of Hornwort is the Spiny Hornwort, with more details below.
3. Spiny Hornwort (Ceratophyllum echinatum)
Spiny Hornwort is native to North America, inhabiting lakes and slow-moving streams in New England. The plant is perennial and submerged, with some leaves floating at the water surface and most submerged underwater.
Unlike the common Hornwort, Spiny Hornwort grows in acidic waters. The plant lacks a root system but has leafy branches modified as rhizoids. The plant is also characterized by a dry fruit that doesn’t split open when ripe.
4. Golden Dodder (Cuscuta campestris)
Known by the scientific name Cuscuta campestris, Golden Dodder is native to the Americas, specifically the US, Canada, and Mexico.
The plant is also easily identifiable, thanks to its parasitic nature.
Dodder plants have no true roots and live with zero photosynthetic activity. However, the plant bears flowers and fruits. The stem of C. campestris is pale orange and measure 0.3mm in diameter.
Typically parasitic plants twine and attach to the host plant, but C. campestris is an exception. Instead, it produces tendrils that develop haustoria, a specialized root structure with suckers penetrating the host plant.
Golden Dodder obtains water and nutrients from the host plant, eventually neutralizing it.
The other plant with no distinct root system is Utricularia. The plants are collectively referred to as bladderworts, and their vegetative organs are not differentiated into roots, stems, and leaves.
The plant is carnivorous and captures flies and insects through bladder-like traps.
5. Least Duckweed (Wolffia arrhiza)
Our list of plants without roots isn’t complete without Wolffia arrhiza. A member of the Lemnaceae family, Wolffia is an evergreen perennial that lacks a root system.
The plant is native to Britain and some parts of Europe. Some sources mentioned Wolffia to be the smallest angiosperm in the world. It has a tiny plant body, globoid or cylindrical, and measures 0.4 – 1.33 mm long with a width of 0.2 – 1mm.
You will find Wolffia floating or partially below the water surface. Scientists have in the past cultivated Wolffia in bioreactors using submergence.
The plant has male and female organs (hermaphrodite) and prefers growing in mildly alkaline conditions. The leaves of Wolffia arrhiza are edible with a lot of nutritional value and taste like sweet cabbage.
If you were in doubt about the existence of plants that can grow without roots, you need to brush those doubts aside.
Most rootless plants exist naturally in aquatic environments as submerged or floating water plants, with unique mechanisms and structures for water and nutrient absorption.
Why not have an aquatic environment in your garden and introduce some of these plants as an adventure, won’t you? However, do avoid the parasitic types.
Job Kiniale is a certified crop scientist and gardening enthusiast with a passion to help beginning gardeners navigate their newfound hobby. Let’s talk about plants, backyard ideas, and general gardening advice. Outside work, Job loves spending time with family.