The evolution of rooting structures was a crucial event in Earth's history, increasing the ability of plants to extract water, mine for nutrients and anchor above-ground shoot systems. Fossil evidence indicates that roots evolved at least twice among vascular plants, in the euphyllophytes and independently in the lycophytes. Here, we review the anatomy and evolution of lycopsid rooting structures. Highlighting recent discoveries made with fossils we suggest that the evolution of lycopsid rooting structures displays two contrasting patterns – conservatism and disparity. The structures termed roots have remained structurally similar despite hundreds of millions of years of evolution – an example of remarkable conservatism. By contrast, and over the same time period, the organs that give rise to roots have diversified, resulting in the evolution of numerous novel and disparate organs.
- root evolution