The root cap assists the passage of the root through soil by means of its slimy mucilage secretion and by the sloughing of its outer cells. The root penetration resistance of decapped primary roots of maize (Zea mays L. cv. Mephisto) was compared with that of intact roots in loose (dry bulk density 1.0 g cm-3; penetration resistance 0.06 MPa) and compact soil (1.4 g cm-3; penetration resistance 1.0 MPa), to evaluate the contribution of the cap to decreasing the impedance to root growth. Root elongation rate and diameter were the same for decapped and intact roots when the plants were grown in loose soil. In compacted soil, however, the elongation rate of decapped roots was only about half that of intact roots, whilst the diameter was 30% larger. Root penetration resistances of intact and decapped seminal axis were 0.31 and 0.52 MPa, respectively, when the roots were grown in compacted soil. These results indicated that the presence of a root cap alleviates much of the mechanical impedance to root penetration, and enables roots to grow faster in compacted soils.