Root : soil adhesion in the maize rhizosphere: the rheological approach

S Czarnes*, S Hiller, AR Dexter, PD Hallett, F Bartoli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


This study was designed to investigate the strength of attachment of plant seedling roots to the soil in which they were grown. The study also assessed the effects of differing soil textures and differing soil matric potentials upon the strength of the root:soil attachment. A device for growing roots upon a soil surface was designed, and was used to produce roots which were attached to the soil. In order to quantify root:soil adhesion, roots of maize seedlings, grown on the soil surface, were subsequently peeled off using a universal test machine, in conjunction with simultaneous time-lapse video observation. To clarify the partitioning of energy in the root:soil peeling test, separate mechanical tests on roots, and on two adherent remoulded topsoil balls were also carried out. The seedling root was characterised by a low bending stiffness. The energy stored in bending was negligible, compared to the root:soil adhesion energy. The mechanical properties of two adherent remoulded topsoil balls were a decrease of the soil:soil adhesion energy as the soil:soil plastic energy increased. These two parameters were therefore interdependent. Using a video-camera system, it was possible to separate the different processes occurring during the root:soil peeling test, in particular, the seed:soil adhesion and the root:soil soil adhesion. An interpretation of the complex and variable force:displacement curves was thus possible, enabling calculation of the root:soil interfacial rupture energy. At a given suction (10 kPa), the results of the peeling test showed a clear soil texture effect on the value of the root:soil interfacial rupture energy. In contrast, for the same silty topsoil, the effect of the soil water suction on the value of the interfacial rupture energy was very moderate. The root:soil interfacial rupture energy was controlled mainly by a product of microscopic soil specific surface area and the macroscopic contact surface area between the root and the soil. Biological and physical interactions contributing to root:soil adhesion such as root:soil interlocking mechanics were also analysed and discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-86
Number of pages18
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1999
Event16th World Congress of Soil Science - MONTPELLIER, Canada
Duration: 20 Aug 199826 Aug 1998


  • soil surface properties
  • mechanical-properties
  • top soils
  • maize
  • iJsselmeer polders
  • seedlings
  • rhizosphere
  • contact
  • anchorage
  • soil : root contact
  • matric water potential
  • soil : root adhesion
  • growth
  • length
  • thin-section technique


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