On characterizing root function in perennial horticultural crops

Emily K. Lavely, Weile Chen, K. Aysha Peterson, Annie E. Klodd, Astrid Volder, Richard P. Marini, David M. Eissenstat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Premise: While root-order approaches to fine-root classification have shown wide utility among wild plants, they have seen limited use for perennial crop plants. Moreover, inadequate characterization of fine roots across species of domesticated perennial crops has led to a knowledge gap in the understanding of evolutionary and functional patterns associated with different fine-root orders. Methods: We examined fine-root traits of common horticultural fruit and nut crops: Malus ×domestica, Prunus persica, Vitus vinifera, Prunus dulcis, and Citrus ×clementina. Additional roots were sampled from 33 common perennial horticultural crops, native to tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions, to examine variation in 1st- and 2nd-order absorptive roots. Results: First-order roots of grape and 1st- and 2nd-order roots of apple and peach were consistently thin, nonwoody, mycorrhizal, and had high N:C ratios. In contrast, 4th- and 5th-order roots of grape and 5th-order roots of apple and peach were woody, nonmycorrhizal, had low N:C ratios, and were thicker than lower-order roots. Among the 33 horticultural species, diameter of 1st- and 2nd-order roots varied about 15-fold, ranging from 0.04 to 0.60 mm and 0.05 to 0.89 mm respectively. This variation generally was phylogenetically conserved across plant lineages. Conclusions: Collectively, our research shows that root-order characterization has considerably more utility than an arbitrary diameter cutoff for identifying roots of different functions in perennial horticultural crops. In addition, much of the variation in root diameter among species can be predicted by evolutionary relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1214-1224
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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