Basal shoots, root sprouts, adventitious shoots, water sprouts and suckers are various types of shoots which grow from a bud at the base of a tree or shrub or from adventitious buds in its roots. A plant that produces suckers (root sprouts) is referred to as surculose. Root suckers may emerge some distance from the originating plant, are considered a form of vegetative dispersal, and may originate a habitat patch where that tree is the dominant species. Suckers also may arise from the roots of trees that have been cut down.
This is a phenomenon of natural asexual spread, also known in plants as vegetative reproduction. It is a plant propagation strategy and the complex of individuals formed by a mother plant and all its clones produced form a single genetic individual, a genet. The plant suckers are clones from the mother plant. The plant will have a genome identical to that from which it arose. Many species of plant reproduce through vegetative reproduction, such as the Canada thistle, cherry, Apple, Ligustrum, hazel, Tree of Heaven, Asimina triloba. The guava, a tropical tree, is also known to propagate through basal shoots.
The basal shoot is a variety of dispersal vector that allows the plants to reach specific habitats that are favorable for their survival. Some species send out suckers that can spread very quickly and they have the capacity of forming thick blankets of roots being able to reclaim an area that has been logged or deforested, as well as areas that have been heavily eroded and pastured. These could be considered invasive but they are used in the recovery of soils and then naturally replaced by non-pioneer species in such areas as burned lands, stabilization of land in public works and channels of rivers with large flood, hydraulic public works, reservoirs etc. They create a shaded area where new species will grow and gradually replace them in many cases.
In trees, the roots normally grow outward to about three times the branch spread. Only half of a tree's root system occurs between the trunk and the circumference of its canopy. Roots on one side of a tree normally supply the foliage on that same side of the tree. Thus when roots on one side of a tree are injured, the branches and leaves on that same side of the tree may die or wilt. For some trees however, such as the maple family, the effect of a root injury may show itself anywhere in the tree canopy.
Stolons are stems which grow at the soil surface or just below ground and form adventitious roots at the nodes, and new plants from the buds. Thus, not all horizontal stems are called stolons. Plants with stolons are called stoloniferous. Stolons are often called runners. Rhizomes, in contrast, are root-like stems that may either grow horizontally at the soil surface or in other orientations underground.
Suckers and basal shoots can be used to propagate woody plants. Suckers can be dug or broken off with some of the roots attached. Stool beds involve cutting a young plant to near ground level and heaping soil over it so that basal shoots will form adventitious roots and can later be separated as whole rooted plants. The technique is used particularly for vegetative propagation of rootstocks for apple trees.
Suckers on some ornamental plants are considered undesirable by horticulturists because the plant's energy is diverted to the sucker rather than to crown growth. Horticulturists recommend removing suckers on trees and shrubs by tearing them away as close to the base as possible, removing soil if necessary. The buds that give rise to suckers are more completely destroyed through tearing than through cutting. In extreme cases, the root giving rise to the suckers can be separated from the tree entirely, then treated in the same way as a stump with suckers. Suckers arising from an unwanted tree stump can be controlled with herbicides, killing the entire plant, including suckers and roots.
- Hickey, M.; King, C. (2001). The Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms. Cambridge University Press.
- "Stolon". Dictionary.com. Archived from the original on 9 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-07.
- A. N. Roberts W. M. Mellenthin (1957), Propagating Clonal Rootstocks (PDF), Circular of Information 578, Agricultural Experiment Station Oregon State College Corvallis
- "Horticultural Advice: Tree Suckers". Royal Horticultural Society. Archived from the original on 10 April 2006. Retrieved 13 June 2006.
- "Controlling Sucker Sprouts From Roots and Stumps". CSU/Denver County Cooperative Extension Master Gardener. 14 January 2006. Retrieved 13 June 2006.