I used to draw a lot when I was a kid. Like a lot a lot. In school, everyone knew art was my thing.
As an artist, learning about human anatomy wasn’t work. I did that for fun. I remember that now because before Plantui, I didn’t think of myself as a gardener and I wasn’t so interested in learning a thing about plant biology, but now it’s found a meaningful place in my life.
Plants have an anatomy just like people do, and I’d like to share some of the basic terms I’ve picked up that have made me a better gardener and helped me to grow.
The first thing you need to know is that a plant is made up of two halves: the roots and the shoot. Let’s start with the roots and then talk about the leaves and stem of the shoot.
We have feet to help us move, but you may have noticed your plants are pretty sedentary (if your Plantui Smart Garden is walking, please contact our support staff immediately). Plants don’t like to move so much and the first job of the roots is to anchor the plant into one spot. That’s one reason that they split into so many branches and stay attached to the capsule in your Plantui device. But there’s another reason for branching that’s a little more challenging to see.
We can see under any plant how thicker, tougher roots split into many smaller branching roots, but if you don’t look closely, you might miss the thinnest of them all. They’re so thin, that they’re called “root hairs.” One little hair may not seem like a great way to hold anything, but a lot of little hairs are a great way to hold water.
When you step out of the shower, you can probably towel off your body pretty fast, but what part takes the longest to dry? Your hair. Hair is so much harder to dry than the rest of us that we had to invent hair driers to help us out. It holds water because your hair has more surface area than the rest of your body.
The roots can suck up water rich with nutrients and send them to the rest of the plant. When a plant is grown with hydroponics, its roots become especially densely branched. It’s easy to forget that some of the most common veggies have highly specialized roots, like carrots and red beets!
Further reading: Interesting article “The Rhizosphere – Roots, Soil and Everything In Between”
Roots become well branched in hydroponics.
With the roots sucking up water and nutrients, a plant needs leaves to absorb light. Leaves are doing the same thing that solar panels do on a house, but instead of turning that energy into electricity, they’re using it to make sugars. That process is called photosynthesis and it’s responsible for producing all the oxygen we need to survive on Earth and all the sugary fruits we need to survive breakfast.
The petiole is the part of a leaf that splits off of the stem. This is what moves leaves to follow the Sun as the Earth rotates. Again, solar panels work in the same way, but with big robotics moving them to maximize energy absorption. When you harvest leaves from a plant, you can pull them right off the stem, petiole and all.
Some plants have a very short stem with all the leaves close together, forming a rosette. These plants don’t need pruning. You can find some of them under Plantui’s Fast Growers selection, including Coriander, Wild Rocket, Parsley, Bloody Sorrel and Violas.
Every plant needs roots in the earth and leaves reaching out to the light. The stem is what connects them. It also places flowers high enough to be reached by pollinators (my personal favorite being big, fat bumble bees - see below).
As the highway system of the plant, the stem needs to transport the water and food sucked up by the roots to the tiny veins in the leaves growing along its length. A node is where a leaf is attached to the stem. An internode is the space between two nodes.
Why We Prune
The stem grows at its tip, known as the terminal bud. If the terminal bud is destroyed, the plant gets the same message you would if you bonked your head in the dark: “Don’t go that way anymore.” The plant stops growing in that direction and tries again somewhere else. A new branch starts from one of the earlier nodes.
This is why gardeners prune their herbs: when you pinch off the top of the shoot, the plant will start to branch, becoming more bushy. This means you will get more leaves to harvest!
A Little Anatomy Goes a Long Way
When I was a kid, teachers used to say I had a gift for drawing, and I did, but it didn’t come from no where. I liked drawing and I learned a few basic lessons that made me better at it, but that gift came from experience. If you like gardening, you’ll pick up these little lessons bit by bit. Eventually, you may see them as a gift.