8 junio, 2024

Tubers: definition, characteristics, types, examples

We explain what tubers are, their characteristics, the types that exist and we give several examples.

What are tubers?

Tubers are underground storage organs found in some plants. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, carrots, and radishes are good examples of root vegetables that we regularly consume in our diet.

Plants, like us, have different organs that fulfill different fundamental functions for their lives. The organs of a plant are divided into two segments, one aerial (above the ground) and one subterranean (below the ground).

The leaves, stems, spines, fruits and flowers are generally aerial organs and participate in processes such as structure, photosynthesis (plant feeding by sunlight and atmospheric carbon dioxide), reproduction and the defense of plants against predators.

The roots, rhizomes, bulbs and tubers are the underground organs of plants, that is, they grow below the ground and are responsible for important functions such as obtaining water and mineral nutrients, supporting or anchoring the plant. in the soil, from energy storage in the form of sugars, from vegetative propagation, among others.

The tubers are underground organs that function especially in the storage of carbohydrates such as starch, for example.

These plant organs have historically been an essential source of food for humans, since they often supply up to 80% of the total calories we need daily to maintain a healthy life.

There are a wide variety of tubers in nature, but potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots are among the most popular and most consumed in the world.

Tuber characteristics

Let’s see the main characteristics of tubers:

They are organs or underground structures of plants.
Its main function is to store carbohydrates (carbohydrates, sugars).
They can be modified stems or roots, «swollen», specialized in storage.
They are found in virtually any ecosystem on planet Earth.
They are composed of a special type of plant tissue (parenchymal tissue) whose cells store a lot of water and a lot of carbohydrates in the form of starch.
For some plants they are structures of propagation or asexual reproduction.
For others, on the other hand, they are resistance structures for seasons like winter, for example.
They are an important source of food for different animal species, including humans.

types of tubers

Although the tubers are always underground, they can be of two types: on the one hand there are those that are stems and on the other hand those that are roots.

stem tubers

Stem tubers are actually modified stems that grow underground and swell, specializing in storing energy in the form of starch.

They are found near the surface of the earth, where they can grow horizontally and cover large areas; from these roots, stems and leaves can be formed.

The most characteristic elements of these tubers are the growth nodes, better known as «eyes», from which a new plant can grow.

Examples of stem tubers, also called «true tubers», are the potato or potato -which we eat- and the dahlia, an ornamental plant.

root tubers

Root tubers are modified roots that are visibly thickened and also serve storage functions.

They generally grow vertically toward the ground and are often unable to form new plants, as many stem tubers can.

They are very compact structures and good examples of these tubers are carrots and cassava, known in some places as yucca or cassava.

Examples of tubers

Potato or potato (Solanum tuberosum)

It is a plant related to other well-known species such as tomato and eggplant.

It produces tubers of different shapes, rich in starch. Although it is native to the American Andes, it is a highly consumed species in all parts of the world. It is generally consumed after cooking.

Sweet potato, sweet potato or sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)

It is a plant that produces an elongated tuber, which -when cooked- has a texture similar to that of the potato, but with a very particular sweet taste.

It is also native to the American continent and very popular consumption throughout the world. It is generally eaten cooked.

Carrot (Daucus carota)

It is an edible, elongated root, generally orange in color and rich in vitamin C. Originally from «Eurasia», it is also a tuber consumed worldwide. It can be eaten raw or cooked in different ways.

Manioc, cassava or cassaca (Manihot esculenta)

It is a plant that produces root tubers of variable size, with a thick, resistant shell and a generally white or yellow center, depending on the variety.

It is native to the American tropics and is rich in starch. It is eaten cooked and its starch is used for different preparations.

Peony (Paeonia broteri)

It is a well-known plant species that produces showy, large and very colorful flowers. It is native to the Iberian Peninsula and produces tubers from which it can multiply asexually.

Beet (Beta vulgaris)

It is a plant that produces fleshy tubers with a rounded appearance and characterized by having an intense purple color and a sweet flavor.

Depending on the variety, both the foliage (leaves) and the tubers (raw or cooked) can be consumed. It is a very important species, since one of its varieties is used to obtain sugar.

Turnip (Brassica rapa)

It is also known as «white turnip» and is native to the Asian continent. Its consumption has become popular in almost the entire world, where it is generally eaten raw and its young leaves are used in salads.

Radish (Raphanus sativus)

It is a relatively fast-growing plant that produces red, slightly pungent, low-starch root tubers. They are usually eaten raw.

Dahlias (genus Dahlia)

They represent a group of plants native to Central America, popular in the floral industry for their beautiful flowers. They produce tubers that are generally used to reproduce them.

Arracacha (Arracacia xanthorrhiza)

It is a root tuber native to the American Andes and rich in carbohydrates. It is also known as «white carrot» and its high starch content makes it a common ingredient for soups, purees and other culinary preparations.

Other examples of tubers

Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
Daikon or white turnip (Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus)
Mashua, añu or cubio (Tropaeolum tuberosum)
Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
Yam (genus Dioscorea)
Malanga, malangá or Taro (Colocasia esculenta)
Jerusalem artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke or Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)
Yacon or ground pear (Smallanthus sonchifolius)
Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius)
Jicama or pelenga (Pachyrhizus erosus)
Konjac or glucomannan (Amorphophallus konjac)
Tiger nut (Cyperus esculentus)
Yam or cush-cush (Dioscorea trifida)
Chago or mauka (Mirabilis expansa)
Cyclamen or pork loaf (Cyclamen coum)
Anemone (Anemone tuberosa)
Yamaimo or Japanese Yam (Dioscorea japonica)
Chinese water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis)
Chinese artichoke or crosne (Stachys affinis)
Caladium (Caladium bicolor)


Bresinsky, A., Körner, C., Kadereit, JW, Neuhaus, G., & Sonnewald, U. (2013). Strasburger’s plant sciences: Including prokaryotes and fungi. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
Nabors, MW (2004). Introduction to botany (No. 580 N117i). pearson.
Raven, P.H. (2013). Biology of plants/Raven Biology of plants.
Rees, A. (1966). The Physiology of Ornamental Bulbous Plants. Botanical Review, 32(1), 1-23. Taken from jstor.org/stable/4353723

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