- THE DOROTHY HEWETT AWARD
Unravelling the Secret Life of Plant Root Systems
By John S. Pate
Roots are truly amazing structures. They show great flexibility when exploring and exploiting soil substrates of uneven penetrability and availability of water and nutrients, yet also possess highly ordered architectures and anatomical features which may turn out to be as diagnostic of a species as any attribute based on aboveground parts.
The book provides case studies of structural and functional qualities of roots of species from the biodiverse ecosystems of south west Western Australia, and views these in the context of survival in nutrient-poor soils, continued threat of fire and extreme seasonal fluctuations in temperature and water availability.
Among a range of issues considered in the volume are examinations of:
- roots in symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing organisms and mycorrhizal fungi
- roots of parasitic species capable of extracting water and solutes from transport channels of their hosts
- cluster roots adept at sourcing sparingly available nutrient resources, and
- recently discovered cases amongst eucalypts whose specialised roots, in probable cooperation with microbes, generate compacted layers of clay and/or carbonates in their rooting catchments.
These examples, discussed alongside accounts of how roots and shoots interact in their respective inputs of photosynthate and water, comprise fascinating commentaries on how plants perform under exacting natural conditions and in comparison to the cossetted systems one finds under agriculture, horticulture, forestry and gardening. The book considers relevance of subject matter and conclusions to conservation and cultivation of plants.