How Orchid Roots Grow

Roots are fundamental to a plant’s survival. They uptake water and other nutrients, anchor the plant in the soil, store vital carbohydrates, and even sometimes protect the plant from herbivores. In epiphytic orchids, roots also help the plant adhere to a tree limb. But not much is known about how orchid roots behave when they encounter an obstacle. Do they go around it, or does the obstacle pose a bigger complication for the orchid? Through a grant from the National Science Foundation led by researchers at Duke University and Georgia Tech, we are investigating how both terrestrial and epiphytic orchid roots interact with obstacles using state of the art imaging techniques. What we learn from this project may inform how we collect root samples and outplant vitally important orchid species back into their natural habitat.