A succulent growing roots from its stem is something to take note of as it is often an indication of larger issues at hand that you may need to address immediately to ensure the well-being of your plant.
Roots growing on the stem of succulents
But what exactly are these growths on the stems of your plants? Are not roots supposed to grow below the plant, hidden in the soil? The proper name for these growths that you see on your succulent’s stems is aerial roots.
Plants rely on their roots for different functions. These functions include securing moisture and nutrients, transporting both to different parts of the plant, and holding the whole plant firmly in place, usually in the soil.
In most plants, you will find the roots attached to the base of the plant, buried in the soil. However, there are instances where these roots cannot perform their designated functions optimally and in such cases a plant may grow aerial roots to supplement the functions done by the main root system.
The presence of aerial roots can indicate that your plant is missing something. That something may mean that the plant is not getting enough water or that it needs to anchor itself, usually on a surface as its stems grow longer.
Functions of aerial roots
Aerial roots, also known as air roots, grow on stems to perform multiple functions. Like the main root system, aerial roots extract water and nutrients. But instead of extracting these resources from the soil, aerial roots extract these from the air.
Although you cannot see it, the air is filled with water in the form of water vapor. Aerial roots are capable of absorbing water vapor from the air. But compared to the primary root system, aerial roots are not as efficient in absorbing water.
Apart from water vapor, the air can also contain a small amount of nutrients that are valuable to your succulent.
Plants also need gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. In most plants, these gases are acquired by the leaves. But in some plants, the aerial roots also perform this key function.
Some plants called epiphytes use aerial roots to latch on securely to their host plants. Most succulents do not need to send out roots for structural support. If they do, it is because it has shallow roots that are close to the ground.
Finally, plants grow air roots to provide support to their runners. Succulents like the Haworthia are known to send runner stems. These trailing stems have aerial roots that aid in propagation. If those runners get cut off from the main plant, the aerial roots are converted into conventional roots which anchor and provide water and nutrients to the new plant.
Evaluating your succulent’s deficiencies
Although the appearance of aerial roots on a succulent is not a major cause for concern, they often indicate that your plant is not getting most of its needs met. In short, you can look at air roots as warning signals that prompt you to act to address your succulent’s deficiencies.
In this case, air roots appear, not to help in absorbing more light. On the contrary, these roots appear because the plant has become too top-heavy. Here, the main role of the air roots is to provide support to the plant once it tips over.
Aerial roots sometimes grow on stems because your succulent is dehydrated. Dehydration can arise due to two main reasons. Your succulent may be dehydrated simply because you are not giving it enough water. Some people think that succulents need little to no water because of their ability to store moisture.
Succulents like to get drenched in water. However, these plants do not need to be watered regularly. Imagine heavy but infrequent rains in the desert. If aerial roots appear, revisit your watering habits. Perhaps, you need to water your succulent more often than you have been doing.
On the other hand, you might be giving your plant enough water but it can still be dehydrated. In such a case, you should carefully examine the composition of the soil you are using. If there is a significant amount of organic matter in the soil, it can get too moist for your plant. This excessive moisture impedes the root system’s ability to draw water from the soil. If there is too much organic matter in the soil, change the soil to a different one, ideally one that is gritty.
If you live in an area that has high humidity, you might see your succulent growing air roots from its stems. The appearance of these roots indicates that your plant is taking advantage of this situation. Specifically, your plant sees high humidity as an opportunity to get more water from the air.
For most succulents, high humidity is detrimental as it prevents water evaporation. Remember, your succulent does not like sitting on wet soil for an extended period. When it is too humid, it takes a long time for the soil to get dry. Eventually, this can lead to root rot. You can lessen humidity by increasing airflow. This can be done by opening the windows in your home or by using an electric fan.
It should be noted that not all succulents grow air roots from their stems.
Aerial roots typically appear in succulents that grow fast, like the Graptopetalum paraguayense and the Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives.’ You may also notice air roots on the stems of succulents that are in their growth phase.
What to do with aerial roots
You can leave the aerial roots and let them be. Their continued presence does not necessarily hurt your plant. However, these roots can become unsightly, especially when they become harder and thicker. If you want to remove these roots, you can just clip them off.
The more important issue at hand is determining your plant’s deficiencies. Try to look at the possible reasons for the presence of these air roots and remedy the underlying problem.
A warning sign
Although the presence of air roots does not necessarily mean that your succulent is in danger of dying, it indicates that your plant’s needs are not being met adequately. Consider the presence of aerial roots as a warning sign. Act fast to prevent grave problems from arising.
Image: istockphoto.com / Olga Beliaeva