Thank you, natural world, for that unique structure called a root

After many days of cold and damp and fog and drizzle, the sun came out today, dazzling eyes more used to a dim gray cloak of daylight. I rushed outside to enjoy the glittering daylight and said to myself how thankful for the sun I am. Then I had to stop and remind myself that all of nature is a gift.

Right now, I’m especially grateful for roots, which have a pretty busy life year-round. Here are some indicators of root activity I noticed walking around the garden in January.

The tiny acacia against the back rock outcrop has buds! It’s wasting no time getting ready to put out the welcome mat for the early bees. Remember the phrase, “Sap’s arising”? Botanists will tell us that sap doesn’t really rise. What changes as a tree prepares for spring is the movement of moisture. In winter, the interior cells of a tree, closer to its heartwood, are wetter. When the tree senses the change in light and temperature that hints at the beginning of the growth season, the moisture and nutrients move from cell to cell. Starches stored in the roots begin the transformation into nourishment for which the twigs and buds hunger. Apparently the roots of the acacia are awash in plenty, and the cells have flushed the buds so they are ready to burst.

acacia buds Jan 18 2015.jpg

 One brave bulb of the species narcissus, native to southwest Europe and northern Africa, has stretched a green shoot out of the mulch.

Did you know that the flower stalk and several leaves start their development inside the bulb, ready to take advantage of the perfect minute to bloom? So both roots and bulb have been busy underground through all that cold and damp and fog and drizzle – and darkness from the shorter winter days.  When you plant a bulb, it doesn’t necessarily accept the depth you plant it. That bulb can grow contractile roots to push itself down to the level it likes.

 Unlike the acacia and narcissus, bluebonnets are annuals. They bloom for one spring, make seeds, and wither away. Now the bluebonnet leaves are getting just a tiny bit larger.

The seeds sprout, bird-planted, and establish themselves as rosettes in the fall, then hunker down to build strong roots, rather like weight lifters at the gym.

The roots get fat and sassy with nodules of bacteria that take nitrogen from the soil and change it to a form for use by the plant. While I can’t see the Rhizobium, the nodules did flaunt themselves when last season’s plants were pulled up.

A smart phone, even one worn on my wrist, is fun and useful and can even be charming. But I doubt I’ll ever say I’m grateful for technology the same way I give thanks for roots and nitrogen-fixing bacteria and the chemical transformation of starches into sugars.