Why Do Tropical Trees Have Shallow Roots?

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Many trees grow their roots at the base of the trunk, but why do certain tropical trees have shallow roots? The answer has to do with the type of soil in which they grow. Trees that grow in coarse, sandy soils usually have shallow roots. Conversely, trees that grow in moist soil usually have deep roots. If a tree has shallow roots it will not be able to get sufficient moisture from its surroundings and will therefore not be able to flourish.
Tropical plants such as coconut palm and banana (plantains) are adapted to grow in sandy and nutrient-poor soils because most other types of plants would struggle to survive there. These plants also have a very large taproot and an extensive root system that allows them to access water and nutrients at great depths. As a result, even though these trees appear to have shallow roots they are capable of rapidly absorbing water from their surroundings when they get rain or through regular watering by humans.

Which Trees Have Shallow Roots?

Trees with shallow roots are usually those that grow in coarse, sandy soils. These plants include coconut palm, banana (plantain), and some species of yucca.

How to Care for Shallow Rooted Trees

If you have a tree with shallow roots and you would like to keep it healthy, it is important that these types of trees are watered on a regular basis. Additionally, the plant should be protected from too much sun. If the roots get dried, they will die back and the tree will not be able to survive.
If your tree is suffering because of shallow roots or any other reason, talk to your local garden center. They may be able to provide some solutions for you.

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Why Do Coarse Soil Tropical Trees Have Deep Roots?

Most plants have roots that grow straight down into the soil. These plants are often able to access water and nutrients at greater depths than those with shallow roots. That is because the soil for coarse soil tropical trees would typically be loose or sandy and have little to no nutrients. This type of soil doesnt contain a lot of water either, which means that the tree has to rely on rainfall or regular watering by humans.

Differences Between Coarse Soil and Moist Soil Tropical Trees

Tropical trees that grow in coarse soil are more likely to have shallow roots. If a tree grows in a moist soil, it has deep roots that allow it to access enough water and nutrients.
Coarse Soil: Shallow roots, low rate of water absorption
Moist Soil: Deep roots, high rate of water absorption


The tropics are a harsh environment with a lot of heat, rain and wind. Tropical trees have evolved to survive in these conditions. They have shallow roots so they can absorb as much water as possible. Their roots often extend just a few inches down into the soil, but they can extend up to 60 feet. Some tropical trees can even grow roots underground through their nodes so they don’t get waterlogged. Shallow roots allow tropical trees to grow faster and taller than trees in temperate climates. But these shallow roots can be a problem because if the ground where they live dries out, the tree will die.
This is why tropical trees need to be watered frequently, especially in dry periods. This is also why tropical trees live in moist soil in contrast to temperate trees which live in coarse soil. The difference in soil texture allows for the root systems of both types of trees to survive and thrive.


What are the benefits of having shallow roots?

The shallow roots of trees growing in sandy soils allow the tree to maximize the use of available water and nutrients in their immediate surroundings. These roots are especially good at accessing water stagnant in the soil or stored in deeper layers. This allows trees to capture maximum water and nutrients during periods of intense growth, such as following a rain.
When a rainstorm passes over a tree grown in nutrient-poor soil, the roots can draw up as much as 80 percent of the available water. The shallow root system allows the rest of the plant to takes advantage of this extra supply.
Shallow roots also allow trees to store excess nutrients invested in growth at their base a process known as vegetative growth dynamic, which may be more efficient than storing nutrients directly in the trunk or crown.

Why do tropical plants have shallow roots?

In order for a tree to obtain nutrients from the soil, water and minerals, it must first extract them from the soil. As a result of their root systems becoming entwined in the soil, trees are able to extract nutrients more efficiently and with less effort. This is because roots have a greater surface area than roots alone in even the richest soils.

When roots are confined in shallow soil, they are not able to obtain mineral resources as easily as they would in deep soil. What this means is that they are unable to get the water resources they need directly from the soil. Rather, they have to depend on transpiration, or the flow of water through their stems and leaves out of the stem cavities, to help them acquire these nutrients and water.

Because of this limitation in nutrient availability, trees whose roots remain relatively shallow can generally produce less biomass than trees whose roots are deep. And since biomass is a measure of how much material a plant produces per unit area of land, there is bound to be some impact on yield potential for shallow-rooted trees.

Why do some plants have deep roots and others shallow roots?

Shallow roots allow a plant to absorb water and nutrients directly from the ground. A shallow root system also allows a tree to access the nutrients in the soil that are more than 5 feet below the surface. Plants that have shallow roots are better able to extract water from soils with low available water capacity (AWC). They also have a reduced risk of root rot and drought. In contrast, deep-rooted plants tend to experience greater stress in dry conditions.

Why Do Tropical Trees Have Shallow Roots?

Brett Velarde

Brett Velarde

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