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Science
THE LIVING WORLD
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Sunday 06:35-07:00
The Living World is a gentle weekend natural history programme, presented by Lionel Kelleway, which aims to broadcast the best, most intimate encounters with British wildlife.
nhuradio@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 25min
Listen to 18 December
PRESENTER
LIONEL KELLEWAY
Lionel Kelleway
PROGRAMME DETAILS
Sunday 18 December 2005
Lionel Kelleway, with Pat Denne and Nigel Brown inspecting tree roots at Treborth Botanic Garden
Lionel inspects some roots of a tree in Treborth Botanic Garden with Pat Denne and Nigel Brown.

TREE ROOTS

Lionel Kelleway explores life underground and the fascinating world of tree roots!

Lionel Kelleway visits Treborth Botanic Gardens, (part of the University of Wales ), near Bangor in North Wales , for a fascinating and unusual subterranean tour into the world of the tree root!

His guides are Nigel Brown, Curator of Treborth Botanic Gardens, and Pat Denne, a former lecturer in wood science and forestry at the University of Wales , and Chairperson of the Friends of Treborth Botanic Garden.

Their journey begins on a very windy beach overlooking the Menai Straits, where fossilized plants dating back to the Carboniferous period, some 300 million years ago, provide evidence of some of the earliest root systems. In fact, roots have changed relatively little during the course of evolution - and their function - to provide anchorage for the plant, absorb water and store nutrients, are as important to modern day plants as it was to those earliest plant forms.


As to which came first - roots or stems? Nigel Brown suggests that the roots came first -and that without roots systems, the evolution of pants, their terrestrial dominance and upward growth would have been severely limited. The importance of a good root system to a plant cannot be underestimated.

Further inland in the heart of the gardens, amongst a grove of Hazel, Beech, Holly and Ash, Lionel tries a "scratch and sniff" technique to identify one root from another. In this case, whilst Bay roots smell distinctly of Bay, the roots of a legume species smell horribly of dried fish!

Lionel and his guides also dig down into the soil to find some roots, and discuss a very special relationship which has evolved between many tree species and particular fungi called mycorrhizal fungi, which is vital for the tree's survival. The relationship is a symbiotic relationship - ie both partners benefit. The fungus gets a supply of food from the host plant and the tree benefits from the greater uptake of mineral nutrients via the fungal structures.

Lionel also learns why roots are round not flat like leaves and how they influence their surroundings - all in all, discovering there's much more to a root than simply being a plant's drinking straw and anchor!
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