Plant World

Plant Structure and Function

What are the specialized cells in plants?

All plant cells have several common features, such as chloroplasts, a cell wall, and a large vacuole. In addition, a number of specialized cells are found only in vascular plants. They include:

Parenchyma cells—Parenchyma (from the Greek para, meaning “beside,” and en chein, meaning “to pour in”) cells are the most common cells found in leaves, stems, and roots. They are often spherical in shape with only primary cell walls. Parenchyma cells play a role in food storage, photosynthesis, and aerobic respiration. They are living cells at maturity. Most nutrients in plants such as corn and potatoes are contained in starch-laden parenchyma cells. These cells comprise the photosynthetic tissue of a leaf, the flesh of fruit, and the storage tissue of roots and seeds.

Collenchyma cells—Collenchyma (from the Greek term kola, meaning “glue”) cells have thickened primary cell walls and lack secondary cell walls. They form strands or continuous cylinders just below the surfaces of stems or leaf stalks. The most common function of collenchyma cells is to provide support for parts of the plant that are still growing, such as the stem. Similar to parenchyma cells, collenchyma cells are living cells once they reach maturity.

Sclerenchyma cells—Sclerenchyma (from the Greek term skleros, meaning “hard”) cells have tough, rigid, thick secondary cell walls. These secondary cell walls are hardened with lignin, which is the main chemical component of wood. It makes the cell walls more rigid. Sclerenchyma cells provide rigid support for the plant. There are two types of sclerenchyma cells—fiber and sclereid. Fiber cells are long, slender cells that usually form strands or bundles. Sclereid cells, sometimes called stone cells, occur singly or in groups and have various forms. They have a thick, very hard secondary cell wall. Most sclerenchyma cells are dead once they reach maturity.

Xylem—Xylem (from the Greek term xylos, meaning “wood”) is the main water-conducting tissue of plants and consists of dead, hollow, tubular cells arranged end to end. The water transported in xylem replaces that lost via evaporation through stomata. The two types of water-conducting cells are tracheids and vessel elements. Water flows from the roots of a plant up through the shoot via pits in the secondary walls of the tracheids. Vessel elements have perforations in their end walls to allow the water to flow between cells.

Phloem—The two kinds of cells in the food-conducting tissue of plants, the phloem (from the Greek term phloios, meaning “bark”) are sieve cells and sieve-tube members. Sieve cells are found in seedless vascular plants and gymnosperms, while sieve-tube members are found in angiosperms. Both types of cells are elongated, slender, tube-like cells arranged end to end with clusters of pores at each cell junction. Sugars (especially sucrose), other compounds, and some mineral ions move between adjacent food-conducting cells. Sieve-tube members have thin primary cell walls but lack secondary cell walls. They are alive once they reach maturity.

Epidermis—Several types of specialized cells occur in the epidermis including guard cells, trichomes, and root hairs. Flattened epidermal cells, one layer thick and coated by a thick layer of cuticle, cover all parts of the primary plant body.


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