Background Root systems are well-recognized as complex and a variety of traits have been identified as contributing to plant adaptation to the environment. A significant proportion of soil in south-western Australia is prone to the formation of hardpans of compacted soil that limit root exploration and thus access to nutrients and water for plant growth. Genotypic variation has been reported for root-penetration ability of wheat in controlled conditions, which has been related to field performance in these environments. However, research on root traits in field soil is recognized as difficult and labour intensive. Pattern analysis of genotype Ã— environment (G Ã— E) interactions is one approach that enables interpretation of these complex relationships, particularly when undertaken with probe genotypes with well-documented traits, in this case, for the ability to penetrate a wax layer. While the analytical approach is well-established in the scientific literature, there are very few examples of pattern analysis for G Ã— E interactions applied to root traits of cereal crops.Scope In this viewpoint, we aim to review the approach of pattern analysis for G Ã— E interaction and the importance of environment and genotype characterization, with a focus on root traits. We draw on our research on G Ã— E interaction for root depth and related studies on genotypic evaluation for root-penetration ability. In doing so, we wish to explore how pattern analysis can aid in the interpretation of complex root traits and their interaction with the environment and how this may explain patterns of adaptation and inform future research. Conclusions With appropriate characterization of environments and genotypes, the G Ã— E approach can be used to aid in the interpretation of the complex interactions of root systems with the environment, inform future research and therefore provide supporting evidence for selecting specific root traits for target environments in a crop breeding programme.