Plant and Soil

, Volume 368, Issue 1–2, pp 231–249 | Cite as

Measuring variation in potato roots in both field and glasshouse: the search for useful yield predictors and a simple screen for root traits

  • Jane Wishart
  • Timothy S. George
  • Lawrie K. Brown
  • Gavin Ramsay
  • John E. Bradshaw
  • Philip J. White
  • Peter J. Gregory
Regular Article



Potatoes have an inadequate rooting system for efficient acquisition of water and minerals and use disproportionate amounts of irrigation and fertilizer. This research determines whether significant variation in rooting characteristics of potato exists, which characters correlate with final yield and whether a simple screen for rooting traits could be developed.


Twenty-eight genotypes of Solanum tuberosum groups Tuberosum and Phureja were grown in the field; eight replicate blocks to final harvest, while entire root systems were excavated from four blocks. Root classes were categorised and measured. The same measurements were made on these genotypes in the glasshouse, 2 weeks post emergence.


In the field, total root length varied from 40 m to 112 m per plant. Final yield was correlated negatively with basal root specific root length and weakly but positively with total root weight. Solanum tuberosum group Phureja genotypes had more numerous roots and proportionally more basal than stolon roots compared with Solanum tuberosum, group Tuberosum genotypes. There were significant correlations between glasshouse and field measurements.


Our data demonstrate that variability in rooting traits amongst commercially available potato genotypes exists and a robust glasshouse screen has been developed. By measuring potato roots as described in this study, it is now possible to assess rooting traits of large populations of potato genotypes.


Solanum tuberosum L. group Tuberosum Solanum tuberosum group Phureja Root Sustainability Delta carbon Water 



Abscisic acid


Dry weight


General linear model


Harvest index








Specific root length


Surface area







We thank all who helped in the field with digging up the potato root systems including Catherine Rose, Jackie Thompson, Lionel Dupuy, Gladys Wright, Ankush Prashar and Gaynor Mackenzie. We also thank the JHI field staff for setting-up and maintenance of the field trials. The research was also funded by the Scottish Government Work Package 1.7 “Profitable and sustainable agriculture” (2005–2011) and Work Package 3.3 “The soil, water and air interface and its response to climate and land use change” (2011–2016).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jane Wishart
    • 1
  • Timothy S. George
    • 2
  • Lawrie K. Brown
    • 2
  • Gavin Ramsay
    • 2
  • John E. Bradshaw
    • 2
  • Philip J. White
    • 2
  • Peter J. Gregory
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.School of BiologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK
  2. 2.The James Hutton InstituteInvergowrieUK
  3. 3.East Malling ResearchNew RoadUK
  4. 4.Centre for Food Security, School of Agriculture, Policy & DevelopmentUniversity of ReadingWhiteknightsUK

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