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Rhizomes: What are they and examples

We all know or have a notion of the basic parts that make up a plant: root, stem and leaves. However, surely when it comes to identifying the different types and structures that exist, we do not have such clear ideas. In fact, it is very common to visualize or imagine a stem, as that part of the plant that grows vertically and from which branches and new leaves emerge, but did you know that they can also grow horizontally?

At we tell you everything about this type of stem, rhizomes, their definition examples rhizomes plants and frequently asked questions that have this type of stem and reproduce in this way, among other ways. Keep reading


What is a rhizome: definition

The stem that grows below the ground and horizontally is called a rhizome , so that it is considered an underground stem like bulbs and tubers, being capable of storing nutrients, therefore, they function as reserve organs for the plant when it faces extreme conditions or nutrient shortages. In addition, by growing horizontally it can also support the plant.

Plants that have this type of stem are usually perennial, so while they lose their leaves and superficial parts during the colder months, they continue to preserve their rhizomes and store the nutrients that the plant needs to survive. This capacity turns the rhizomes into very interesting stems for human use and consumption, such as ginger, valued for its properties and used both for consumption and for the treatment of certain ailments.

Rhizomes: growth and reproduction

The rhizomes can grow and cover large areas of the ground, since their growth is indefinite . With the passage of time and the length of the rhizome, the oldest parts may die. In these cases, if the shoots of what was initially the same plant are separated by a dead zone and therefore, they will be considered two different plants.

This means that the reproduction of the rhizomes is asexual . From a fragment (as long as it has a bud) of the rhizome, shoots, roots and new plants can arise . Therefore, in gardening, the transplant technique is applied to promote its reproduction and growth. Once the rhizome has been transplanted, it will use the stored nutrients for the development of the new individual. For this reason, its division and planting usually take place during the months that present more favorable conditions, such as the beginning of spring, summer and even during autumn.

How to identify rhizomes?

A characteristic of the stems is that they have meristematic tissues or  buds . This trait allows a modified stem to be used as a propagation structure.

The rhizome is a stem that, instead of growing upwards and vertically, takes the opposite path. It grows underground and horizontally along the ground, so it can also serve to support the plant.

It also produces roots, which come out from its lower face, from each node. These roots are adventitious and come out close to the rhizome nodes, from which shoots also come out upwards, which will be the visible part of the plant.

Types of rhizomes

According to the type of branching and growth that the rhizomes present, they can be divided into two different types:

  • Defined or sympoid rhizomes: their growth is defined, which implies that the original plant can die when others appear too close to it. The simploidal rhizomes usually have short and thick nodes, being in turn capable of storing a large amount of nutrients.
  • Indefinite or monopodial rhizome: its growth is considered to be indefinite, since the original plant never dies, giving rise to a large number of new plants. It is characterized in that its nodes are longer than those of the defined rhizomes and new nodes and rhizomes are continually generated.

Rhizome function

The main function of the rhizome is the storage of nutrients, including carbohydrates and proteins, until the plant requires them for the growth of new shoots or to survive the winter in a process called vegetative reproduction. Farmers use vegetative reproduction to laterally propagate plants such as hops, ginger, and various species of grasses. Some rhizomes are also eaten or used as a condiment, such as ginger and turmeric.

Plants with rhizomes: examples

Iris rhizome

As we have said before, the plants that reproduce by rhizomes are perennial, here are some examples:

  • Ginger : it is one of the most popular plants with rhizomes, belonging to the Zingiberaceae family, due to its multiple uses and properties.
  • Grass: or white grass. It has a thin and elongated rhizome.
  • Indian cane: it is a plant of tropical origin and, despite having rhizomes, which favor its development and growth, it needs a lot of attention and care for its maintenance and conservation.
  • Mint: is one of the most valued plants that have rhizomes, like ginger, for its properties, smell and peculiar taste.
  • Lily: it is one of the plants with rhizomes that have thick and leafy stems, which allows them to survive extreme temperatures and harsh winters.
  • Solomon’s Seal: characterized by the presence of white tubular flowers. For its growth and development it requires a large supply of nutrients, so the presence of rhizomes favors their absorption, storage and disposal.
  • Bamboo: all bamboo species reproduce by rhizomes, having a great interest especially in gardening, in order to create barriers that provide us with separation, protection or greater privacy in our homes.

Other helpful rhizomes include aloe, black cohosh, and peppermint.

  • underground rhizomes

The most dominant type of rhizome is the underground rhizome; it is situated underground and includes ginger, hops, poison oak, grass species, and bamboo. Many of these plants have rhizomes that are consumed by humans (for example, ginger).

  • above ground rhizomes

While most rhizomes are found underground, some plants have rhizomes that grow at or above ground level. Examples of these plant species include ferns and irises.

  • multilayer rhizomes

Most rhizomes occur as a single layer from which shoots and roots originate. However, there are some plant species that form multiple layers in a complex network (eg giant horsetail rhizomes).

In short, the following are the most common rhizomes:

  1. Ginger
  2. ginger ale
  3. Aloe
  4. black cohosh
  5. Mint
  6. Hop
  7. poison oak
  8. Bamboo
  9. ferns
  10. giant horse tail
  11. Lily
  12. Indian cane
  13. Solomon’s Seal
  14. Maidenhair
  15. poplars
  16. Turmeric
  17. Lotus
  18. the irises
  19. some types of ferns
  20. Creek

Are rhizomes roots or stems ?

The answer it is a stem .

The etymology of rhizome refers us to a Greek word that can be translated as “root” . A rhizome is a type of stem that grows underground and horizontally, giving rise to shoots and roots through its nodes.

Thanks to their indefinite growth, the rhizomes can advance and cover a very large surface. It is common that, over the years, certain sectors die, but outbreaks continue to occur in other areas .

Difference Between Rhizoid and Root

A rhizome is a root-like structure that exists at the base of algae and serves to hold the substrate in place. Unlike the root, it does not serve as the main organ for capturing water or nutrients . Importantly, rhizomes are thread-like cellular structures present in the sporophytes of some algae, gametophytes, and lower vascular plants.

The roots are plant organs, generally underground, without leaves, with functions of absorption, fixation and storage; Rhizomes are root -related structures found in plants. Rhizomes are found in fungi, bryophytes, and ferns.

The vegetative bodies of fungi and bryophytes are indistinguishable in terms of roots, stems, and leaves. The shape and function of the rhizome depends on the species and the type of substrate. The rhizomes of organisms that live in muddy substrates often have complex branching.

In contrast, the rhizomes of organisms that live on sandy substrates are bulbous and highly flexible , such as those of sea pens, which can insert their entire bodies into the substrate when the rhizomes shrink.

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