The Root Development of Vegetable Crops: Astonishing Illustrations

| 8/20/2013 4:42:00 PM

The following information is summarized from the introduction of The Root Development of Vegetable Crops, which is available for free on the Holistic Agriculture Library website.

If you’re as much of a plant nerd as we are, prepare to get absorbed. John E. Weaver, an American botanist, prairie ecologist and Professor at the University of Nebraska, completed a massive project in the year ofOnion Maturing 1927. With the help of his team of assistants, Weaver meticulously illustrated the root development of 34 popular vegetable crops (see the illustration of mature onion roots, right). In the massive undertaking that was partly botanical and partly archeological, Weaver and his team dug trenches approximately 5 feet deep to study the plant’s root systems from the side. The five-foot-deep trench created a big enough expanse onto which the scientists could slowly chisel with hand picks and ice picks to uncover and carefully examine the vegetable’s complicated root systems.

This painstaking work required much patience and expertise. The plants were studied and illustrated at multiple stages of growth in order to best represent general, long-term root habits. Every plant studied was grown in sets of at least three. This was done so that an excavation performed at two weeks of growth would not affect the results of an excavation performed after six weeks or two months. Every set of fragile roots was left undisturbed until it was time to dig.

Drawings of the root systems were made in the field on a large drawing sheet with pencil, and then later retraced with ink. Although the drawings were made on a large scale, the rootlets were often so abundant that it was still impossible to show every detail. In every case, the drawings were made to illustrate the average condition of the roots, rather than the extreme. Accompanying the illustrations are fastidious field notes regarding plant spacing, soil health, crop growth and more.

Weaver’s findings were published in Root Development of Vegetable Crops (1927), the sister publication to Root Development of Field Crops (1926). In 1929 Weaver partnered with ecological pioneer Henry Chandler Cowles to publish the first American ecology textbook.

Barbara Pleasant
12/4/2014 6:45:32 AM

This is so cool to see the secret life of beets. Thanks for sharing these wonderful drawings!

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