Orchid roots vs shoots is one of the most searched orchid-related comparisons. Every orchid grower should know the difference between these two parts because it will help them do better gardening.Orchid Roots vs Shoots

Furthermore, understanding their roles will also give you an idea about how to grow these plants safely. So, read this article and learn everything about the roots and shoots of the orchids!

Factors Roots Shoots
Shape Long with uniform tips. Long with flatter tips.
Color White to light green. Greener than the roots.
Location Ground roots stay under the potting medium, while air roots emerge from the stem. Shoots are above the potting medium.
Growth Pattern Follow a gravitropism growth pattern, which means they grow downwards. Follow reverse gravitropism and stretch toward the lighting source (upward).
Velamen Contains velamen Does not contain velamen

What Are the Main Difference Between Orchid Roots and Shoots?

The main difference between the roots and shoots of orchids is their appearance. Orchids’ aerial and ground roots have uniform ends, while the shoots are flatter. But the shoots are greener because they have chlorophyll and lack velamen. In addition, location and growth patterns are other significant differences.

– Shape

Roots and shoots have different visual characteristics. Roots appear thin, wiry, and elongated. On the other hand, the orchid stem or shoot is usually thicker, more fleshy, and displays nodes or joints.

It is easy to differentiate between mature roots and shoots. Gardeners face confusion when these orchid parts are young. It is because both look almost the same after sprouting. But you can tell the difference by observing the ends of the new growth.

– Color

Roots have a white to greenish color, depending on the species. Aerial roots also look the same but are thinner than the potted ones. In comparison, young orchid spikes are greener than the sprouting roots.

– Location

Roots are found below the soil or growing medium as they anchor the plant. Furthermore, they stretch downwards in search of nutrients and water (which is natural). The air roots of orchids emerge between the junction of leaves. They droop down with time and do standard root work. They absorb moisture, trap minerals, do photosynthesis, provide anchorage, and much more to keep the orchid healthy.

Contrarily, shoots are above the growing medium. The new orchid spike location is usually at the base of the stem. However, you can also see air roots emerging from the stem.

– Growth Pattern

Roots grow downward, seeking moisture and nutrients in the growing medium. They exhibit positive gravitropism, meaning they grow in the direction of gravity. In contrast, shoots show upward growth toward the light source.

They exhibit negative gravitropism, which means they grow against the force of gravity. It’s not orchids’ growth pattern only. It happens in every plant. If the stem droops down, it is a sign of disease, weakness, etc.

– Presence of Velamen

Roots have a protective sheath called velamen. It is typically white or silvery-white in color and can be felt when you hold the young roots. On the other hand, orchid shoots do not have velamen.

How Are Orchid Roots Characterized?

The orchid roots are characterized by helping the plant absorb water and minerals from the surroundings. Both of these things are crucial for smooth growth and flowering. In addition, they also support and anchor the orchid. Furthermore, air roots can also do photosynthesis, which keeps the plant energetic.Characteristics of Orchid Roots 1

– Moisture Absorption and Storage

Roots have an incredible ability to absorb and hold moisture, which is crucial for orchids’ survival. They have velamen- a layer of empty cells that traps water from the surroundings, and these are the ones responsible to let them grow and thrive.

Moreover, many orchid plants can store water in their root tissues, known as Parenchyma. Due to these tissues, orchids grow easily during dry spells or low-humid conditions. In addition, as you keep this in mind, you won’t have to water orchids daily due to roots. Water once or twice weekly; the root tissues will keep the plant hydrated.

– Nutrient Uptake

Roots are not only good at absorbing water, but they also help to obtain nutrients from their surroundings. Many orchid species have developed symbiotic relationships with certain fungi, resulting in mycorrhizal connections. These interactions help orchids by allowing them to absorb vital nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from the soil.

Other than mycorrhizal connections, young roots have root hairs that are small, thread-like projections. These hairs help increase the roots’ surface area, allowing them to absorb more nutrients.

But as roots mature, they lose their hair, and now you will foresee a challenge and think about, what to do with new orchid roots. As a result, you should let them grow as the mature roots are essential for the orchid’s survival. The same is the case with air roots, which can also absorb nutrients for the orchids.

Air roots are useful outdoors because they uptake minerals when dust or rain falls on them; in addition, note that the orchid mainly depends on the potted roots for nutrients.

– Helps in Critical Processes

Orchid aerial roots have green pigment, which is formed from the chlorophyll it has, as it help in the successful process of photosynthesis. They trap the light and convert it into energy, which the orchid uses to flourish. However, the photosynthesis of roots is less efficient than that of orchid leaves.

Still, it can contribute a significant quantity of energy to the plant. You may also encounter a situation when your leaves face issues, and these roots can support the orchid and keep the growth going. Moreover, air roots are also sites of gaseous exchange. This process reduces oxidative stress and helps the orchid stay healthy.

– Anchorage and Stability

Aerial and ground roots are critical in ensuring stability by anchoring the plant. They are thick and strong, which allows them to hold onto the surfaces. In addition, they are coated with a sticky material that helps with surface adhesion. That is why orchids stay safe on trees and rocks in the wild.Anchorage and Stability

Roots also provide support when you grow orchids in pots. They “hold on” to the potting medium, which keeps the stem erect. Moreover, the orchid cannot easily slip out of the pot due to its roots.

– Ornamental Value

Air roots look beautiful on orchids. That is why those orchids that can produce them stay in demand throughout the year. You can put such orchids in terrariums, vases, and ornamental pots to enhance the beauty of your homes and gardens.

How Are Orchid Shoots Characterized?

The orchid shoots are characterized by helping in the new growth, including spike, leaves, keikis, and flowers. They also store carbohydrates and minerals, which are utilized during dormancy. Also, you can cut the stem slightly above the node and use it to propagate a new orchid.Features of Orchid Shoots

– Support New Growth

Orchids look beautiful because of the shoots. The flower spikes and the leaves on them give an exotic touch to gardens. An orchid sprouting new stem looks magical too; also you must consider how these sympodial orchids, like cattleya, produce multiple meristems.

But Monopodial, like Phalaenopsis orchids, have only one stem. Still, the flower spike grows in a faster pace, and produces leaflets on it. The mature leaves then do photosynthesis, which supports the other new growth.

– Bloom Colorful Flowers

An orchid blooms because of shoots/specialized storage structures. The new root is round and has a uniform tip, but the new orchid flower spike has a flatter end. They gradually accumulate carbohydrates and other reserves during the vegetative growth phase, ensuring an adequate energy supply for the flowering stage.

When the growing season starts, these carbohydrates are used by the orchid to grow flower spikes. After some time, buds develop on these spikes and bloom into stunning orchid flowers.

– Reproduction and Propagation After Orchids Finished Blooming

The flowers on the spike pollinate and produce seeds, and these seeds are then sown in the potting mix to grow new orchids. Shoots can also help the orchid reproduce asexually via keikis, which are the little shooting plants that can grow, as they are miniature plantlets that emerge on the nodes of flower spikes. They have their roots and leaves, which allow them to grow independently.

You can remove a keiki and plant it in a pot. After a few years, it will grow into a mature orchid and bloom elegant flowers. You can also leave it on the flower spike and let it flourish. Shoots provide a suitable environment for the keikis to grow by offering stored nutrients and energy.

One can utilize the flower spike of an orchid to cultivate a novel plant. In contrast, traditional gardening is not recommended for orchids due to the lengthy seed germination process that can sometimes take up to 10 months. But cutting and planting a spike can give us a new plant in a year or two if you follow proper orchid care practices.

So, do the orchid new spike care and use it to propagate a new plant.

– Stores Energy for Dormancy Period

Another role of orchid shoots is storing energy for the dormancy period. During the active growth phase, orchids photosynthesize and convert solar energy into carbohydrates.

But when they enter a period of dormancy, growth slows down, and energy production decreases. During this resting phase, the stored energy within the pseudobulbs sustains the plant.Identification and Classification

– Identification and Classification

Gardening became advanced when we identified and classified the plants. It was done on the physical appearances of the shoots, like leaf structure, flower shape, etc. At the same time, shoots have helped the experts in identifying and classifying orchids too, such as thee moth orchid is known for its shoots and how the flowers at the tips look like moths.


All in all, roots and shoots are completely different from each other. Roots have mitten-shaped ends and a white to light green color. Shoots, on the other hand, have flatter ends and are greener than the roots. Both have different benefits too.

Surely, orchids can’t survive without shoots and roots for long. Therefore, you should maintain both and ensure they don’t feel stressed. The orchid will reward your efforts with rapid growth and vibrant blooms!

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