Rhizomes are stems that grow underground, putting out lateral shoots and adventitious roots as a way to regenerate a plant’s genetic information and to expand its territory.
Plants use rhizomes to store foods, such as protein and starch, to carry them through bad weather conditions and to generate new plants using suckers and new other new shoots. Many grasses, such as bamboo, can invade an area using rhizomes. Other plants that use rhizomes to propagate include poplar trees, asparagus, bindweed, blackberries, iris, rhubarb and most lawns. Ginger and turmeric are also rhizomes.
Rhizomes vs. stolons
Rhizomes are modified stems that grow underground, whereas stolons grow at or just below the soil surface. Botanically, there is also a difference in the spacing between nodes of stolons and rhizomes. Rhizomes have shorter internodes than stolons. Potatoes and other tubers are starch storing stolons.
Pros and cons of rhizomes
The good thing about rhizomes is that they make it easy to propagate new plants from pieces of an old root system. A piece of ginger root can be broken off, placed in good soil and a new plant will start to grow. This ability also makes getting rid of certain weeds far more difficult. Simply pulling it up rarely works because there is almost always a tiny piece of rhizome left behind. From this tiny sample of genetic information, new weeds can emerge. When trying to remove rhizomes, it is a good idea to use a shovel and dig around the entire root system.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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