Models of root system growth emerged in the early 1970s, and were based on mathematical representations of root length distribution in soil. The last decade has seen the development of more complex architectural models and the use of computer-intensive approaches to study developmental and environmental processes in greater detail. There is a pressing need for predictive technologies that can integrate root system knowledge, scaling from molecular to ensembles of plants. This paper makes the case for more widespread use of simpler models of root systems based on continuous descriptions of their structure. A new theoretical framework is presented that describes the dynamics of root density distributions as a function of individual root developmental parameters such as rates of lateral root initiation, elongation, mortality, and gravitropsm. The simulations resulting from such equations can be performed most efficiently in discretized domains that deform as a result of growth, and that can be used to model the growth of many interacting root systems. The modelling principles described help to bridge the gap between continuum and architectural approaches, and enhance our understanding of the spatial development of root systems. Our simulations suggest that root systems develop in travelling wave patterns of meristems, revealing order in otherwise spatially complex and heterogeneous systems. Such knowledge should assist physiologists and geneticists to appreciate how meristem dynamics contribute to the pattern of growth and functioning of root systems in the field.