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A tap root, also spelled "taproot," is a large, thick root that generally grows straight down from a plant in order to collect water and minerals from deep in the soil. In most cases, small, fibrous projections grow horizontally outward from the large tap root. Many types of common plants have tap roots, including dandelions, carrots, turnips, and some types of trees. In contrast to tap roots, fibrous root systems are composed of a multitude of small, branching roots that grow outward from the plant and tend not to go deep into the ground. Grass, clovers, and marigold plants are common examples of plants with fibrous root systems.
Many commonly eaten vegetables are actually roots that grow underground as opposed to the other types of vegetables that are actually leaves or stems of plants. A carrot, for example, has a tap root — its large orange root is eaten while the rest of the carrot is not. Similarly, the roots of parsnips, beets, radishes, and turnips are all eaten. In some cases, as with carrots and parsnips, the whole tap root is eaten. In others, such as beets and radishes, it is common to eat the bulbous section at the top of the tap root but not the rest of the root.
Tap roots tend to grow very deep into the ground and often have many small branching tendrils that extend from the main root, so they can be quite difficult to uproot. As such, removing weeds or transplanting other plants that have such roots can be quiet difficult. Failure to destroy a weed's tap root, for instance, generally means that the plant will just grow back within a few days. Common weeds with tap roots include dandelions and plantains. Removing such plants is difficult, and one must often dig a wide circle around the plant in order to uproot it.
A young tree is likely to possess a taproot, but most trees tend to develop shallow fibrous root systems as they age. Hickory trees and some other types of trees do maintain tap roots even as they age, however, and such roots can grow quite massive and quite deep. The branching roots of most trees actually help them to stay upright in spite of wind, rain, and erosion. For such conditions to successfully topple a tree, they would need to cause substantial damage to the soil at least several feet (a couple meters) around a given tree.
If you are uprooting dandelion bear in mind that the taproot can be ground up and used as a substitute for coffee.
Apparently it is quite bitter, but it's something to try.
I saw them do this in one of those shows that follows a group of people doing the 100 mile diet, which is where they try to only eat food that comes from within a 100 mile radius of where they live.
Coffee is almost always grown quite far from where it is drunk, since it requires quite a specific habitat and climate. So if you are going to follow a diet like that, you're not going to be able to drink coffee and still stick to the rules.
If you try dandelion root instead, you'll be able to gather your hot drink at any roadside.
Chicory is another option for a taproot that can stand in for coffee.
@irontoenail - I loved the carrots we grew in the garden when I was a kid. They were so much sweeter and juicier than the ones we got from the supermarket.
Now that I've got my own garden I grow a bunch of different kinds of carrots. You can actually get small, round carrots to grow in containers or if you only have a small amount of top soil to work with.
You can also use carrot greens in the place of parsley. So, if you want to grow a carrot top with your kids, even if you can't get the taproot to grow back, you can still make some use of the resulting plant.
You can also eat beet greens. I try to use as much of my garden as possible in the kitchen, just because fresh food at the supermarket is so expensive.
You have to take the taproot into consideration when you're growing carrots. They like the soil to be deep and loose, or else they tend to end up deformed or too short.
I did aid work in a developing country for a while and this was one of the things we had to teach people. They were used to growing a different kind of crop where they only had to dig up and compost a very shallow area and then the roots would do all the rest of the work.
But, carrots won't grow through hard or stony soil. They'll just stop or start growing in weird directions, meaning you get a less edible and less marketable carrot.
The same goes for potatoes I believe, although in that case you are supposed to grow them in mounds of soil so they won't get waterlogged. That might be because the potatoes aren't taproots, but tubers.
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