UNITED STATES—When a seed germinates, the roots know that they want to go down, and the new stem knows that it wants to go up. Going up sounds simple enough. Stems just go towards the light. How do they know where the light is while they are still under the soil? Well, new stems go upward for the same but opposite reason that roots go downward; gravity. Roots go toward it. Stems go away from it.

Tropism is how plant parts respond to a variety of stimuli, particularly gravity and light, but also water, chemicals, mechanical stimulation, trauma and electricity. Response to gravity is geotropism. Roots exhibit positive geotropism by growing towards gravity. Stems exhibit negative geotropism by growing away from gravity. Stems exhibit positive phototropism by growing towards sunlight.

Roots are always figuring out where to go next by prioritizing their innate positive geotropism, their tropism for or against certain chemicals, and their tropism for moisture but against saturation. Until we see them migrating into lawns, displacing concrete or getting into a septic systems, their work underground is unseen. Tropisms above ground are quite visible and perhaps informative.

When a tall herbaceous plant falls over, it tries to get up. If unable to, it can at least curve new grow upward. Even cut flowers and vegetables in the kitchen can do that much. Snapdragons that are initially arranged leaning outwardly from the center of a floral arrangement can go vertical within a day or two. The fluffiest houseplants regularly get turned so they do not favor one sunny side.

Trees are too big to move, but on rare occasion, it happens. The crossed pairs of Mexican fan palms commonly planted outside of In-N-Out Burger restaurants get planted at a lean while mature, but then grow vertically after installation, leaving an angular kink where the direction changed. Such a kink in an otherwise straight trunk of a tree that was not planted at an angle might indicate a sudden destabilization. A curved trunk indicates either a slow destabilization, or tropism to escape shade.

Highlight: snapdragon

They are short term annuals in spring or autumn. Where winters are cold, they may last from spring through autumn. Where summers are hot, they may last from autumn through spring. So what are snapdragon, Antirrhinum majus, here? They can be either or both, depending on where and when they get planted. For most of us, they are a cool season annuals that finish before summer.

Although they prefer to be in full sun, the warmth of such exposure is what limits their practicality through summer. They bloom a bit less in partial shade, but are more likely to last through summer if kept cool, particularly in an innately cool microclimate. Like many annuals, they want rich soil, and regular watering. Because they are susceptible to rust and mildew, foliage should be kept dry.

Snapdragon blooms in white and many cheery hues of yellow, orange, red and pink. Some of the older varieties, particularly those developed for the cut flower industry, can get very tall, and might almost reach low eaves! Modern garden varieties are shorter and fluffier. The biggest are less than four feet tall, and less than a foot and a half wide. Deteriorating flowers should be pruned away.

Horticulturist Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.wordpress.com.