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Orchids: Aerial roots with Velamen radicum

Orchids living as epiphytes in humid tropical rain forests often have aerial roots that hang down like long beards. These roots are relatively thick and smooth. Except for a green tip, they are silvery-white in color. This color comes from a layer of dead, air-filled cells, known as Velamen radicum. When it rains, these cells soak with water like blotting paper and become transparent, revealing the green core of the root beneath. Roots containing chlorophyll are an anomaly in most of the plant kingdom, but they’re nothing special among epiphytes.

In the bromeliad and aroid house you can see species of Anthurium that produce roots very similar to those of epiphytic orchids. Though these plants are not related, they have developed the same mechanism to quickly absorb water. As you can see, similar survival strategies can evolve independently among very different members of the plant kingdom.

Audio file download
Orchids: Aerial roots with Velamen radicum (MP3, 425 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Günter Gerlach, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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