Arabidopsis thaliana provides a scientifically attractive and simple model for studying root growth and architecture and, subsequently, for discovering new genes involved in the control of these characters in plants. We have used the natural variation available in Arabidopsis accessions and mapped quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for primary root length (PRL), lateral root number (LRN) and density (LRD) and for total length of the lateral root system (LRL) in the Bay-0 x Shahdara population. Total phenotypic variation was very large, and despite the importance of the environmental component we were able to map 13 QTLs and one epistatic interaction between QTLs. Our results highlight the biological relevance and genetic control of lateral root density in this material. We were also able to show that variation in the extent of the lateral root system depends mainly on the growth of the existing lateral roots rather than in a change in LRN. Factors controlling lateral root growth seemed to have no major effect on primary root growth. Moreover, Shahdara QTL alleles always increased the length of the lateral roots, which may be taken as an adaptation to its very dry natural environment in Tadjikistan. A QTL for PRL was confirmed using a type of near-isogenic line called a heterogeneous inbred family (HIF), and this QTL is a candidate for further fine-mapping and cloning.