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What is a Fibrous Root?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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A fibrous root is a type of plant root. In plants with a fibrous root system, the roots are all more or less the same size, and they look like fine, branching hairs which have grown to create a dense mat. This type of root system is extremely common, especially among grasses and wildflowers, and it has a number of advantages for the plant. Many people have experienced fibrous roots if they work in the garden.

When plants start growing, the first root they put out is known as a radicle. The radicle is a large, thick root which is designed to get the plant established and anchored so that it will be able to absorb nutrients. Plants with fibrous root systems have radicles which eventually die back, allowing fibrous roots to project from the stem and into the soil. Taproots, by contrast, develop directly from the radicle, creating a single large, thick root which anchors the plant in the ground. Classically, fibrous roots can be found projecting from taproots to gather nutrients for the plant.

One of the advantages of a fibrous root system is that it can be extremely useful in erosion control, because the roots help to hold soil in place. The roots can also trap moisture for the plant, and their wide spread ensures that the plant gets plenty of access to nutrients and water. Fibrous roots also hold a plant firmly in place so that it cannot be disturbed by heavy weather, animals, and other forces.

These advantages can also prove to be disadvantages for gardeners, when a plant with fibrous roots is undesired. These plants can be difficult to pull out and eradicate because they grip the soil so firmly, and the plant will regrow if the roots are not fully removed. Weeding such plants is also messy business, because they tend to pull up large chunks of soil and other substrate materials such as gravel and decaying organic material.

Fibrous roots like to spread out, which can be a big problem in container gardening. Plants with these types of roots have a tendency to get rootbound as the roots start to pack the container the plant is grown in. As the roots continue to grow, they will mat and fold back on themselves, creating a tight rootball which deprives the plant of nutrients and makes the plant difficult to transplant. A fibrous root system can also be endangered when people dig around the parent plant, as people may sever the roots without realizing it.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon336719 — On May 31, 2013

Get to know the advantages and disadvantages of plants with fibrous roots which grow widespread in your area. Such plants are difficult to pull out of soil easily, and even if they come out, the roots stay under the surface of the soil and regrow.

By closerfan12 — On Oct 25, 2010

One of the worst fibrous root examples I've ever come across in my landscaping is quack grass.

That stuff if vicious! If you even let it get a toehold, the next thing you know you'll have a whole yard of the stuff, and it's darn near impossible to get rid of.

The root system is just so strong and so intricate that it's virtually impossible to eradicate, and when you do pull it up, you'll usually take off your topsoil with it.

I still haven't found a good solution for it, except to be very vigilant and to nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand.

As to getting rid of it, the best I can do is to wait until winter when it freezes and dries out, and then pull up as much as I can. Not the most effective strategy, but it's the best I can do.

Does anybody else reading this have any suggestions for getting rid of this crazy thing?

By galen84basc — On Oct 25, 2010

Thanks for this article -- my son is just starting a botany unit in school, and he's brining home worksheets every day asking about roots and phyllum and all sorts of other things.

Well, today's worksheet was on the difference between taproots and fibrous roots, and he had to give five examples of plants with fibrous roots.

This article was just so informative and helpful. Thank you for posting such detailed and interesting information.

By naturesgurl3 — On Oct 25, 2010

So how on earth can I get rid of fibrous roots and their tap roots without tearing up my whole garden?

I've got a serious weed infestation, and they seem to really just make a net of roots under the soil. I can get the tap root pretty easily, but when I try to pull out the fibrous roots, I end up taking up half the garden with it.

And like you said, if you don't get every last root, then you might as well have not even bothered, since the weed is just going to pop right up again.

Are there any good tips to get rid of fibrous root plants without stripping my garden, or am I just stuck with either leaving them or having them tear up my garden?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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