“A tree’s beauty lies in its branches, but its strength lies in its roots.”– Matshona Dhilwayo
Simple in structure and covert in function, roots anchor a plant in its substrate, absorb water and minerals necessary for plant growth, and store excess food and water. There are two types of true root systems. Fibrous, or diffuse, are thin, profuse, elegantly branched, and relatively shallow root systems that draw nutrients and water from the top layers of the soil. Taproots grow singularly, or in pairs, deeper into the ground, drawing in nutrients and water closer to the water table. There are many taproots specialized for food storage that are important agricultural crops. Commonly known as root vegetables, they include carrots, beets, radishes, yams, parsnips, and turnips, as well as others. Moreover, in response to stressful growing conditions, such as flooding, nutrient deprivation, heavy metals, and wounding, plants can form roots from non-root tissues, like stems and leaves. Although not true roots, these specialized structures know as adventitious roots are ultimately considered part of the plant root network. They are adaptations that aid in plant growth, as well as provide a competitive edge in survival. Cypress, oak, mangrove, and aspen trees, ivy, horsetail, and economically important agricultural crops, such as wheat, corn, and rice are examples of plants with adventitious roots.
Found in North America from Canada to Mexico, the Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides, is a species of aspen tree with thin, stalked leaves that tremble in the slightest breeze. Their root system is shallow. Most aspens grow in large, clonal colonies that have been derived from a single seedling. It is through their shared, adventitious root system that new trees, genetically identical to the parent, bud and grow. Pando, Latin for I spread out, is a colony of aspen trees located in south-central Utah. Pando, also know as the Trembling Giant, occupies a 106 acres and is believed to have originated from a single, male Quaking Aspen tree. Although individual aspen trees have a life span of 40-150 years, the aspen root system endures and sustains itself, even through disturbances, like fire and drought. Pando is a single organism, perhaps the world’s oldest, living on a single, archaic root system believed to be over 80,000 years old. Aspen colonies are indicators of ancient forests and grounded in their robust, resilient root system, they grow and spread steadfast and strong.
Just as the aspens, our beauty blossoms from the stronghold and stay of our roots. We must stand affixed and deeply connected to our authentic self to remain resilient and resolute in our growth. In turbulent times, when we may feel untethered, we extend and adapt our reach to re-establish our stability in shifting ground. Immersing ourselves in activities that engage our five senses, turns our focus to the present. In the moment of feeling groundless and un-rooted, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit and take a few deep breaths. Name five things you can see; four things you can touch; three things you can hear; two things you can smell; and one thing you can taste. Simply and purposefully plant your bare feet on the ground and breathe down like you are growing roots. A daily grounding practice of mindful meditation, sacred connection with nature through gardening, cooking, or medicine making, a quiet, watchful walk through the forest, or a silent, sunrise stroll down a sandy beach keeps us rooted in the joyful present and provides the adaptive structure through which we may continue to grow and thrive in times of turmoil and wounding.