Unlike animals, plants have a decentralized body plan. This means they can lose any part of themselves – even quite a lot of themselves – and be just fine.
We’re familiar with this phenomenon through the annual event of leaves changing color and then falling. In preparation for the short, cold days of winter, many plants let go of their food-producing parts and enter a dormant phase.
Some plants go further, letting go of all their above-ground structures and spending the winter as a mass of roots. This is known as ‘dying back’, and it is normal and healthy. So long as the roots remain protected from harsh winter conditions, the plant will pop up again in the spring.
Some people consider plants that have died back to be unsightly, but they are an important part of the winter landscape, providing food and shelter for animals. Anything that doesn’t get eaten can be cut down in the spring, to make way for new growth. The harvested material can be composted, recapturing its energy to be used by future plants.