Anatomy of Terrestrial and Aerial Roots in Vanilla planifolia Plants

Maayan Hirschkorn
Yeshiva University

New York, NY


In Vanilla planifolia there are two different kinds of roots: terrestrial and aerial. Originally, researchers thought that the function of both roots was to provide structural support and that the terrestrial roots provided nutritional support as well. However, they were perplexed why the vanilla plant invested so much energy into making aerial roots that were feet long. (Figure 1)  Meaning, if aerial roots were just for structural support, why was so much energy invested into making such long ones? To learn more about the function of the aerial root in vanilla, the aerial root was stained and anatomically compared to the terrestrial root. Further research showed that the aerial roots had triple the amount of xylem and phloem as the terrestrial roots. Therefore, it is speculated that the reason vanilla invests so much energy into making aerial roots is because they play a significant role in extracting nutrients and water necessary for the plant’s survival.

Maayan Hirschkorn is a freshman at Yeshiva University majoring in biology. She spent several months researching aerial and terrestrial roots of vanilla beans alongside Dr. Daphna Havin- Frenkel, a leading scientist in the field. Maayan presented her findings at a symposium at the Liberty Science Center’s Partners in Science fellowship. She looks forward to a career in the sciences.