Capacitance has been used as a non-destructive measure of root system size for 30 years. The equipment required is cheap and simple to apply in both field and laboratory. Good linear correlations have been reported between capacitance and root mass. A model by F. N. Dalton, predicting a linear relationship between these two variables, has become accepted widely. This model was tested for barley (Hordeum vulgare) grown hydroponically using treatments that included: raising roots out of solution, cutting roots at positions below the solution surface, and varying the distance between plant electrode and the solution surface. Although good linear correlations were found between capacitance and mass for whole root systems, when roots were raised out of solution capacitances were not linearly related to submerged root mass. Excision of roots in the solution had negligible effect on the measured capacitance. These latter observations conflict with Dalton's model. Capacitance correlated linearly with the sum of root cross-sectional areas at the solution surface and inversely with distance between plant electrode and solution surface. A new model for capacitance is proposed that is consistent with these observations.