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Tap Root vs. Fibrous Root: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 14, 2023
A tap root is a primary, dominant root from which smaller lateral roots emerge, while fibrous roots are a network of similarly sized roots without a dominant root.

Key Differences

A tap root is the main, primary root that emerges directly from the seedling and grows downward into the soil, becoming thicker over time. In contrast, a fibrous root system consists of numerous roots that are roughly the same diameter, forming a dense and fibrous mat just beneath the soil surface.
The tap root system is typically seen in dicotyledonous plants. It allows plants to access water and nutrients from deeper layers of the soil. On the other hand, fibrous roots are common in monocotyledonous plants and are more adapted to gather nutrients and moisture from the top layers of the soil.
The tap root system provides strong anchorage due to its deep penetration, helping plants withstand strong winds and erosion. In contrast, plants with fibrous roots spread out widely but not deeply, offering support across a broader area but not accessing deeper soil layers.
Many plants with a tap root system, like carrots and radishes, store nutrients in their primary root. On the other side, plants with fibrous roots, such as grasses, do not typically store large amounts of nutrients in their roots but rather spread out to efficiently gather nutrients from the surrounding soil.
As plants mature, modifications can occur in root systems. A tap root might develop secondary roots that further aid in nutrient absorption. In some plants, the initial fibrous root system can evolve, with one root becoming more dominant, though it may not fully transform into a traditional tap root system.

Comparison Chart

Root Type

Main dominant root with lateral offshoots.
Network of similarly sized roots.

Depth in Soil

Penetrates deeply into the soil.
Spreads out near the soil surface.

Typical Plants

Found in dicots.
Found in monocots.


Access deeper water/nutrients; storage.
Efficiently gathers nutrients from top soil layers.


Provides strong anchorage due to depth.
Spreads out to offer support over a wide area.

Tap Root and Fibrous Root Definitions

Tap Root

Primary root growing thicker and deeper than its offshoots.
The carrot is an edible tap root.

Fibrous Root

Root system that spreads out near the soil surface.
The fibrous roots of wheat plants help prevent soil erosion.

Tap Root

Root system typically found in dicot plants.
Dandelions have a tap root system.

Fibrous Root

Efficient at absorbing nutrients from top layers of soil.
Fibrous roots quickly soak up rainwater.

Tap Root

Main root from which smaller lateral roots emerge.
The tap root allows the tree to access water deep in the soil.

Fibrous Root

Provides support over a wide surface area.
The fibrous root system of the lawn spreads across the yard.

Tap Root

Root that provides strong anchorage.
The tap root of the oak tree stabilizes it against strong winds.

Fibrous Root

Network of fine roots without a main dominant root.
Grasses typically have a fibrous root system.

Tap Root

Can store nutrients or water for the plant.
Beets store sugar in their tap root.

Fibrous Root

Typically found in monocotyledonous plants.
Corn plants have fibrous roots.


Do tap roots store nutrients?

Yes, many tap roots store nutrients, like carrots storing carbohydrates.

What's the main characteristic of a tap root?

A tap root is the primary, dominant root growing deeper than its lateral roots.

Which root system offers deeper anchorage?

The tap root system offers deeper anchorage due to its depth.

Can a plant switch from a tap root system to a fibrous root system?

Typically, plants maintain their inherent root system, but some adaptions can occur as they mature.

Which type of plants typically have tap roots?

Dicotyledonous plants usually have tap roots.

Can fibrous roots prevent soil erosion?

Yes, the dense network of fibrous roots helps bind the soil together.

How do fibrous roots support the plant?

They provide support by spreading out over a wide surface area.

Are fibrous roots visible above ground?

Typically, no. They spread just beneath the soil surface.

How do tap roots benefit plants in drought conditions?

By accessing water from deeper in the soil, ensuring survival during dry periods.

Are fibrous roots common in grasses?

Yes, most grasses have fibrous root systems.

Do fibrous roots absorb water efficiently?

Yes, fibrous roots are adapted to quickly absorb water from the top layers of soil.

Is the main tap root edible in all plants?

No, while some plants have edible tap roots like carrots, not all are fit for consumption.

Can fibrous roots evolve in a plant's lifespan?

While a plant may develop thicker roots, it typically retains its inherent fibrous structure.

Which root system is better for dry conditions?

Tap roots, as they can access water from deeper soil layers.

Why are fibrous roots spread out near the surface?

To efficiently gather nutrients and moisture from the top soil layers.

Do all dicots have tap roots?

While many dicots have tap roots, there can be exceptions.

Can you visually identify a plant's root system type without unearthing it?

Not always, but sometimes growth patterns and plant types give clues about their root systems.

How does a fibrous root system look?

A fibrous root system is a dense network of similarly sized roots without a dominant main root.

Are fibrous roots deep-rooted?

No, fibrous roots generally spread out near the soil surface.

Which root system is more expansive horizontally?

The fibrous root system, spreading out wide beneath the soil surface.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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