General Question

flo's avatar

Does the following image of roots above ground look real or photoshopped?

Asked by flo (13313points) March 30th, 2015

Here is the image:
I got it from here

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45 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Looks real enough to me.

syz's avatar

It looks like tree that is in an area with occasional flowing water.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

The colors have been manipulated. I don’t see anything else unnatural. Or it’s bad Ektachrome. And if it’s Ektachrome, it’s really old film, which could mess up the reds like that.

They look like Mangrove to me. Possibly young Banyan. Or even subterranean roots of a broadleaf of some sort. I think a pine would have a long, fairly straight taproot. I don’t see anything unnatural in the shapes of these things.

Ooops. Just took another look. That’s an Australian Pine. nevermind

janbb's avatar

^^ That one looks like a sculpture rather than real roots coming out of the ground.

The first one looks like the color was photoshopped to me.

flo's avatar

Re. last post, I meant to post this one:

Anyway I don’t understand it. In cities tree roots interfere with the sidewalk, etc. They have to cut the tree off I guess. It doesn’t seem natural to me for roots to grow above ground.

flo's avatar

I once saw a picture of a tree in the middle of something like this and it was ruined, the bricks surroundig the tree all pushed out.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

That’s a swamp tree, but I’m not sure about the color. Roots need oxygen, which is why they grow up, but I don’t know where that color would come from.

flo's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus and @Adirondackwannabe That’s what led me to ask. Very unnatural looking.

But the thing is what makes some tree roots grow upwards and sideways, and some just downward? What is the key word for it?

janbb's avatar

Maybe “adaptation”? Each species of tree is growing the best way it can in the situation it is in.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

The drainage of the soil. Well drained soil has plenty of oxygen in it. The pore spaces are well oxygenated. Moisture saturated soil has very limited oxygen. The water fills all the pores in the soil and the plant can’t get enough oxygen

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t think roots need oxygen, any more than the plant needs oxygen. Oxygen is a waste product of plants. I would think that if the roots needed oxygen, evolution would have figured out a way to divert some of the waste oxygen that way.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Sure, it’s real. The soil has eroded away from under the tree. Most roots generally try to grow downwards, towards the direction of gravity (gravitropism).

Sometimes, a tree growing on the side of a hill, or at the edge of a cliff, can slump downward as the soil creeps, and that will turn their roots accordingly. If it’s still growing, then any new roots will still grow in the direction of gravity, even if the rest of the root system has been rotated in a new direction. The same goes for the trunk – any new growth will be upward… so this can result in a J-shape in the trunk.

When there is a barrier beneath them (it could be rock or a building foundation or just very tightly packed soil) and there is an easier path to the side, they’ll go to the easier path.

The roots in your photos have grown downward, it’s just that the soil has washed and/or blown away from where it once was.

The last photo you posted, with the roots above the grass, appears to be a root system that someone excavated and washed off, then placed wherever they wanted to put it. That placement is not natural.

CWOTUS's avatar

As @Espiritus_Corvus has alluded, there are several tree species, including mangrove and banyan and others that grow naturally to have exposed and protruding roots. In some cases, I think, the root goes underground and later protrudes through the soil again to grow into a new tree – obviously not independent of the parent tree. So it’s not only a way to nourish, but also to propagate. This seems to happen more often with trees that grow in or near swamps, where the exposure of the roots to air some or all of the time keeps the tree from “drowning”.

In other cases, such as trees that we’re familiar with from temperate and land-based locations, storms and other erosion causes can wash out the soil from a mature tree’s roots. If left unchecked, that will frequently kill the tree as it fails to root deep enough to find water (which evaporates more quickly from near the surface of the soil), or simply failing to anchor the tree sufficiently, and it topples and dies.

Of course, there’s also landscaping, bonsai and other deliberate human acts to create effects with living trees and other plants, some of them more artful (and successful in terms of long term survival of the plant) than others.

I would also like to correct one misconception about evolution, which does not “figure out” anything at all. According to what we think we know about evolution, “chance mutation” occurs from time to time in “child” organisms, and the chance either improves the new organism’s chance of propagating its own genes – or not. If the change is successful in biological terms, then the new organism is “more able” to pass on its genes to succeeding generations of the species, and over time its progeny may overtake others of its species and then become the model for the species over a period of many years. Otherwise, the “original” species is able to survive perfectly well, but the mutated organism’s descendants manage to survive in a somewhat different environment and over time become a different species.

There is no “figure out” to it. Some mutations that would seem to make sense simply do not occur, because the succession of mutations that would be required to achieve the change never happen.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I understand what evolution is and how it works, @CWOTUS. Sorry about the wording. I was anthropomorphizing.

ibstubro's avatar

Off the cuff? Looks totally Photoshopped to me. Low roots with distorted vibrant green foliage?

flo's avatar

What do you call trees whose roots grow downwards? I have seen a few trees close to each other and it is only one of them that has the trees around visible. And they are all similar in age.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Roots are there to support the tree so it doesn’t fall over so most of its root system is underground, growing down.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@flo Most trees do have roots that grow downwards. As far as I know, there isn’t a special name for trees that do that. Gravitropism is what causes tree roots to grow downwards.

flo's avatar

But the barriers like rocks, or tightly packed soil or building foundation don’t seem to explain to the tree that’s between other trees whose roots are growing downwards.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@dappled_leaves can you name a tree that has roots that don’t grown downward?

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Dutchess_III Some roots grow downwards, some roots grow laterally from those roots (so, sideways). Yet more roots grow laterally from those roots (so, upwards, downwards, and sideways). It’s like a network.

In a tree, the bulk of the roots will be growing downwards. But you will always have at least some lateral growth. Consider also plants like grass – they have fine, hairy roots that are mostly growing laterally, not very much downward growth.

And, those who mentioned roots growing a little upwards in very wet areas are correct (e.g. various species referred to as mangroves). Roots do need some oxygen for respiration, and since oxygen production is mainly in the leaves, they rely on having access to the air in tiny pores in the soil in order to remain healthy. If those pores are filled with water, their roots will tend to grow upwards a bit.

To me, the photo posted in the details still looks like a product of erosion, though.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The roots serve two purposes, as far as I know. To bring in nutrients from the soil and water, and to anchor the tree, so the majority of the roots will be below the ground. I was just wondering about your comment that ”Most trees have roots that grow downward.” Pretty sure ALL trees have roots that grow down. And once that is established and the tree is secure, it can be Roots Gone Wild.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Sure, and I was answering your question “Can you name a tree that has roots that don’t grow downward?” They all have some roots that don’t go downward. ;)

flo's avatar

Why doesn’t gravity force the roots to go down a rock or whatever obstacle it finds?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Gravity isn’t doing that. As the root grows it puts pressure on the rocks and stuff, and can shift them or go around them. If there is a crack in the rock the root can start growing in it and as it gets bigger it can break the rock.

flo's avatar

@Dutchess_III I’m asking why gravity (which works the same with everything, except steam, lava, for eg.) doesn’t seem to force the roots to down a rock (i.e alongside it) the same way liquid (for example) poured on a solid rock would. Your response to me makes it look like I claimed that gravity does do that.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Gravity isn’t that strong and the root can overcome it pretty easily and grow up or around instead of down. It’s taking the path of least resistance. It’s the slowly growing root that changes direction, or exerts a continuously increasing pressure that may crack a rock or whatever. I mean, take a long blade of grass and push it at a rock. It will change directions, just as a growing root does.

Gravity works the same way with everything. Steam eventually dissipates and finds its way back to earth. Lava flows down, not up, because of gravity.

flo's avatar

Gravity works the same way with everything on earth except some tree roots? My brain doesn’t want go with that.

By the way while steam is still in steam form it is going upward. Eventually what happens is another story. Magma not Lava to correct myself. Same thing there too. But we are getting away from the topic.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@flo “Why doesn’t gravity force the roots to go down a rock or whatever obstacle it finds?”

It does, wherever possible. The only way it wouldn’t be able to is if the rock is so large in extent that it can’t reach around (this can happen).

Dutchess_III's avatar

Of course it works with tree roots. But gravity is pretty weak, and easy to over come. If the path of least resistance is up or sideways, that’s the way the root goes.

Yes, steam is going up ward. So are you when you jump in the air. But you come back down eventually. So does steam. So do clouds.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Dutchess_III “Of course it works with tree roots. But gravity is pretty weak, and easy to over come. If the path of least resistance is up or sideways, that’s the way the root goes.”

Exactly. I think we are all in agreement here. The root goes downward, is stopped by rock, moves laterally, then when it is possible, moves downward again. The result is that the root grows its way around the rock and continues downward.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t agree that gravity is the force that causes roots to grown down. They grow down because that’s what their DNA programs them to do.
If gravity were in charge, and that strong, no part of the tree would be growing up.

dappled_leaves's avatar


Roots are responding to gravitropism.

Shoots (the upper parts of the plant) are responding to phototropism.

Both responses are “programmed” into their DNA.

flo's avatar

Alright the one question that I still have is:
How does a person/a business owner/ a city know to prevent the problem I referred to all the way above?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Can you repost your question so we don’t have to read back through the thread?

flo's avatar

Here is the permalink.
And above that post ” In cities tree roots interfere with the sidewalk, etc.”

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t know that the problem CAN be prevented without killing the tree. The cities just need to be careful what kinds of trees they plant.

flo's avatar

@Dutchess_III Killing the tree becomes necessary because of the absence of prevention.

“The cities just need to be careful what kinds of trees they plant.” How? That is the question. If you are planning to plant a tree what do you do before you plant it?

flo's avatar

…What are the kinds of trees to plant?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, for example, Elm tree roots are very invasive, and they have a huge root system. They’ll tear things up.

From this article, here is a list of trees with invasive roots:

Poplars, Cottonwoods and Aspens (Populus spp.) – nearly all species and varieties – enormous and wide-spreading root systems that desperately seek out moisture, one of the worst to plant near homes or gardens

Willows (Salix spp.) – any of the tree species – extensive root systems anchor willows in their native wet environments and run deep looking for moisture, another to keep far away from homes

American Elm (Ulmus americana) – a favorite urban tree, but one with deep roots that commonly clog drains and sewer lines; keep well away from anything related to water

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) – shallow and dense roots, plant well away from homes and forget about planting any gardens nearby!

dappled_leaves's avatar

I have no experience with this at all, but from searching around, it seems that in my city, some planning goes into the spacing of the trees that are planted. The city has a mandate to provide “sufficient space” to allow for root development and to protect tree roots whenever there is construction.

Trees are trimmed frequently to protect power lines, and they’re removed when they have a lot of insect damage. Trees that are removed are replaced within a year with members of the same or a different species.

I haven’t ever seen a tree removed because its roots were growing into a building, but it simply must have happened from time to time over the past few hundred years. Anyway, there are companies advertising their services to remove trees for this purpose, so it must occur.

But this is the trade-off for having leafy green trees in a city – it may be troublesome, but they clearly still think it’s worthwhile for the benefits that trees provide.

flo's avatar

Thank you @Dutchess_III. That’s what I was searching for. I wonder what the name of the second picture (in that link) is? It says “large trees….”
Thank you @dappled_leaves.

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