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Rhizoids are simple hair-like protuberances that extend from the lower epidermal cells of bryophytes, Rhodophyta and pteridophytes. They are similar in structure and function to the root hairs of vascular land plants. Similar structures are formed by algae and some fungi. Rhizoids are formed from single cells, whereas roots are multicellular organs composed of multiple tissues that collectively carry out a common function.
Plants originated in water, from where they gradually migrated to land during their long course of evolution. In water or near it, plants could absorb water from their surroundings, with no need for any special absorbing organ or tissue. Additionally, in the primitive states of plant development, tissue differentiation and division of labor was minimal, thus the requirement for specialized water absorbing tissue was not required. Once plants colonized land however, they required specialized tissues to absorb water efficiently, and also to anchor themselves to the land.
Rhizoids absorb water by capillary action, in which water moves up between threads of rhizoids and not through each of them as it does in roots.
In fungi, rhizoids are small branching hyphae that grow downwards from the stolons that anchor the fungus to the substrate, where they release digestive enzymes and absorb digested organic material. That is why fungí are called heterotrophs by absortion. In land plants, rhizoids are trichomes that anchor the plant to the ground. In the liverworts, they are absent or unicellular, but multicelled in mosses. In vascular plants they are often called root hairs, and may be unicellular or multicellular.
- C.Michael Hogan. 2010. Fern. Encyclopedia of Earth. eds. Saikat Basu and C.Cleveland. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC.
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