What is The Function of Aerial Roots?

by | Oct 9, 2019 | 6 comments

Aerial roots. What are they? Aerial roots are roots above ground. In the case of my philodendron, my pothos, and my raphidophora, they have attached my plant’s stems to the wall as they climb…..oops. Is that a problem? Not for me.

Philodendron 'Lemon Lime'

The aerial roots are attaching themselves to my wall (Philodendron ‘Lemon Lime’)

Aerial roots on philodendron

Philodendron ‘Lemon LIme’ aerial roots attached to the wall


As you can see below, these vanda orchids are not growing in soil, or bark. Their roots simply hang in the air collecting moisture to keep the plant alive.

aerial roots on vanda orchids

Aerial roots on a vanda orchid


Aerial roots on my raphidophora have attached themselves to the wall in my dining room and climbed to the top of the window. As you can see in the picture on the right, when an aerial root is pulled off the wall, part of it stays. So usually I just let them stay on the wall and keep climbing.


The pothos also has attached itself to my wall in the dining room and has climbed to the ceiling. In the left picture you can see one of the roots detached from the wall and left a mark. The moral of this story….keep your vines in hanging baskets so they don’t attach themselves to your walls. Or at the very least….keep them away from the walls.


The aerial roots on the monstera below are so crazy. This plant is growing at the Belle Isle Conservatory in Detroit. The plant has climbed the huge palms in the palm house and then sent down aerial roots to obtain more water and nutrients to supplement that which is coming from the soil roots. These huge vines climb trees in the jungle and send down aerial roots to help them get enough water to support themselves.

Monstera aerial roots

Aerial roots on a monstera at Belle Isle Conservatory


The philodendron below is at Mathaei Botanical Garden in Ann Arbor. As you can see, some of the roots have attached themselves to the brick wall, but some of the others have the aerial roots, but have not found the right spot yet.


This mother-of-thousands plant has babies on its leaves that have already grown aerial roots. When they fall off the mother plant, they are ready to grow in their new environment.

aerial roots growing on a succulent

This mother of thousands plant is sending out aerial roots and when the babies drop, they will be ready to grow.

Function of aerial roots

So what is the point of these roots? They are used to attach themselves to surfaces so they can support themselves. In their native habitats, these vines are usually attaching themselves to trees so they can grow up the tree to reach the sunlight. The roots may also be sent to the ground to collect water and nutrients for the plant, or to support the weight of the plant. Examples of that are the banyan tree, the schefflera tree, and the screw pine. In the case of the orchid and other epiphytes, the aerial roots are anchoring the plant to the surface it is growing on, but also is collecting water and nutrients. Pretty ingenious plants, if you ask me. Aerial roots are interesting additions to plants and yet serve a purpose as well.

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  1. Shanon

    I have a plant i am trying to root from a cutting but so far it has only grown a ton of aerial roots along its stem. Can i plant it horizontally in soil?

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Shanon, You can do that for sure. They will put their roots down and the plant will start growing up when it gets going. Lisa

      • Inma

        Hello! My pothys is hanging with planty of aereal roots, but quite brown … can i just cut them? Is it dangerous? Thank you!

        • Lisa Steinkopf

          Your pothos has aerial roots? I have cut them off my monstera, especially when they were clinging to my wood flooring! There shouldn’t be any problem cutting them off. Lisa

  2. Lorraine Parra

    I have a philodedron that has a 2 ft aerial root. It is inside plant root is hanging to floor is that ok or should i do something with it

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Lorraine,
      I’m sorry this is late. The aerial root can attach to a wood floor as they did at my house and now I have scars on the floor. You can cut it off or you can just put it back in the pot.


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