Information Introduction to Plant Structures - Biology

What you’ll learn to do: Identify basic common structures of plants

While individual plant species are unique, all share a common structure: a plant body consisting of stems, roots, and leaves. Deeper than this, all plants have the same type of cells (remember plant cells are different from animal cells!), which allow for the rigid structures found in plants.

In this section we’ll learn just how these different structures come together to form unique plants.


Botany is the study of plants. Students in general biology class are usually required to learn the basic form and function of plants. The coloring pages are a great resource to teach plant anatomy.

Flower Coloring – color the parts of a flower stamen, pistil, ovary, petals
Leaf Coloring – color structures xylem, phloem, bundle sheath, epidermis..etc
Monocot and Dicot Comparison – coloring with terms and questions
Photosystem Coloring – shows PSI and PSII, and the ETC, color the structures

Botany Wordsearch – plant terms
Tree Identification – leaf terminology (alternate vs simple), and a key to identify trees of the midwest
Tree Rings – website on dendrology, with questions

Where do Plants Get Their Food – grow plants, weigh soil and disprove that plants consumes soil
Plant Hormones – lab investigates effects of gibberellic acid on growth

Photosynthesis Simulation – measure rates of ATP production while changing light intensity and CO2 levels
Waterweed Simulator – control the light and CO2 amounts and observe the rates of photosynthesis

Rate of Photosynthesis – using baking soda, elodea and light, measure the bubbles to observe how fast a plant photosynthesizes and releases oxygen
Investigation: Photosynthesis – this lab uses leaf disks that float to indicate photosynthesis. Students investigate factors that affect photosynthesis. (AP Lab)

Separation of Plant Pigments – identify plant pigments by separation and isolation of the pigments using thin layer paper chromatography.

Photosystems Labeling – image showing photosystem I and II and the electron transport chain, students label the parts of the system

Fluorescence of Chlorophyll – cut up a spinach leaf and add ethanol to see how chlorophyll turn red under a black light

Investigation of Leaf Stomata – compare stomata of plants kept in the light and dark

Do Plants Consume or Release CO2 – using phenol red as an indicator, colors in test tube will change as the plant releases oxygen and consumes carbon dioxide.

Help Wanted – descriptions of plant jobs (classifieds), students guess the structure best suited
Transpiration Lab – measure rates of water loss in plants kept in different conditions
Germination Inhibitors – measure germination rates in tomatoes
Seed Germination Experiments – students investigate what factors affect germination

How Plants Grow

Figure 1. There must be an area of growth, similar to how the bones in your fingers, arms, and legs grow longer. There is, and it is called the apical meristem, which is shown here.

Most plants continue to grow throughout their lives. Like other multicellular organisms, plants grow through a combination of cell growth and cell division. Cell growth increases cell size, while cell division (mitosis) increases the number of cells. As plant cells grow, they also become specialized into different cell types through cellular differentiation. Once cells differentiate, they can no longer divide. How do plants grow or replace damaged cells after that?

The key to continued growth and repair of plant cells is meristem. Meristem is a type of plant tissue consisting of undifferentiated cells that can continue to divide and differentiate.

Apical meristems are found at the apex, or tip, of roots and buds, allowing roots and stems to grow in length and leaves and flowers to differentiate. Roots and stems grow in length because the meristem adds tissue “behind” it, constantly propelling itself further into the ground (for roots) or air (for stems). Often, the apical meristem of a single branch will become dominant, suppressing the growth of meristems on other branches and leading to the development of a single trunk. In grasses, meristems at the base of the leaf blades allow for regrowth after grazing by herbivores—or mowing by lawnmowers.

Apical meristems differentiate into the three basic types of meristem tissue which correspond to the three types of tissue: protoderm produces new epidermis, ground meristem produces ground tissue, and procambium produces new xylem and phloem. These three types of meristem are considered primary meristem because they allow growth in length or height, which is known as primary growth.

Figure 2. Microphotograph of the root tip of a broad bean show rapidly dividing apical meristem tissue just behind the root cap. Numerous cells in various stages of mitosis can be observed.

Secondary meristems allow growth in diameter (secondary growth) in woody plants. Herbaceous plants do not have secondary growth. The two types of secondary meristem are both named cambium, meaning “exchange” or “change.” Vascular cambiumproduces secondary xylem (toward the center of the stem or root) and phloem (toward the outside of the stem or root), adding growth to the diameter of the plant. This process produces wood, and builds the sturdy trunks of trees. Cork cambiumlies between the epidermis and the phloem, and replaces the epidermis of roots and stems with bark, one layer of which is cork.

Figure 3. Primary and secondary growth

Woody plants grow in two ways. Primary growth adds length or height, mediated by apical meristem tissue at the tips of roots and shoots—which is difficult to show clearly in cross-sectional diagrams. Secondary growth adds to the diameter of a stem or root vascular cambium adds xylem (inward) and phloem (outward), and cork cambium replaces epidermis with bark.

Watch this time-lapse video of plant growth. Note that there isn’t any narration in the video.

In Summary: How Plants Grow

Most plants continue to grow as long as they live. They grow through a combination of cell growth and cell division (mitosis). The key to plant growth is meristem, a type of plant tissue consisting of undifferentiated cells that can continue to divide and differentiate. Meristem allows plant stems and roots to grow longer (primary growth) and wider (secondary growth).


Pollen germination has three stages hydration, activation and pollen tube emergence. The pollen grain is severely dehydrated so that its mass is reduced enabling it to be more easily transported from flower to flower. Germination only takes place after rehydration, ensuring that premature germination does not take place in the anther. Hydration allows the plasma membrane of the pollen grain to reform into its normal bilayer organization providing an effective osmotic membrane. Activation involves the development of actin filaments throughout the cytoplasm of the cell, which eventually become concentrated at the point from which the pollen tube will emerge. Hydration and activation continue as the pollen tube begins to grow. [5] In conifers, the reproductive structures are borne on cones. The cones are either pollen cones (male) or ovulate cones (female), but some species are monoecious and others dioecious. A pollen cone contains hundreds of microsporangia carried on (or borne on) reproductive structures called sporophylls. Spore mother cells in the microsporangia divide by meiosis to form haploid microspores that develop further by two mitotic divisions into immature male gametophytes (pollen grains). The four resulting cells consist of a large tube cell that forms the pollen tube, a generative cell that will produce two sperm by mitosis, and two prothallial cells that degenerate. These cells comprise a very reduced microgametophyte, that is contained within the resistant

The pollen grains are dispersed by the wind to the female, ovulate cone that is made up of many overlapping scales (sporophylls, and thus megasporophylls), each protecting two ovules, each of which consists of a megasporangium (the nucellus) wrapped in two layers of tissue, the integument and the cupule, that were derived from highly modified branches of ancestral gymnosperms. When a pollen grain lands close enough to the tip of an ovule, it is drawn in through the micropyle ( a pore in the integuments covering the tip of the ovule) often by means of a drop of liquid known as a pollination drop. The pollen enters a pollen chamber close to the nucellus, and there it may wait for a year before it germinates and forms a pollen tube that grows through the wall of the megasporangium (=nucellus) where fertilisation takes place. During this time, the megaspore mother cell divides by meiosis to form four haploid cells, three of which degenerate. The surviving one develops as a megaspore and divides repeatedly to form an immature female gametophyte (egg sac). Two or three archegonia containing an egg then develop inside the gametophyte. Meanwhile, in the spring of the second year two sperm cells are produced by mitosis of the body cell of the male gametophyte. The pollen tube elongates and pierces and grows through the megasporangium wall and delivers the sperm cells to the female gametophyte inside. Fertilisation takes place when the nucleus of one of the sperm cells enters the egg cell in the megagametophyte's archegonium. [6]

In flowering plants, the anthers of the flower produce microspores by meiosis. These undergo mitosis to form male gametophytes, each of which contains two haploid cells. Meanwhile, the ovules produce megaspores by meiosis, further division of these form the female gametophytes, which are very strongly reduced, each consisting only of a few cells, one of which is the egg. When a pollen grain adheres to the stigma of a carpel it germinates, developing a pollen tube that grows through the tissues of the style, entering the ovule through the micropyle. When the tube reaches the egg sac, two sperm cells pass through it into the female gametophyte and fertilisation takes place. [7]

Pollination may be biotic or abiotic. Biotic pollination relies on living pollinators to move the pollen from one flower to another. Abiotic pollination relies on wind, water or even rain. About 80% of angiosperms rely on biotic pollination. [8]

Abiotic Edit

Abiotic pollination uses nonliving methods such as wind and water to move pollen from one flower to another. This allows the plant to spend energy directly on pollen rather than on attracting pollinators with flowers and nectar.

By wind Edit

Some 98% of abiotic pollination is anemophily, pollination by wind. This probably arose from insect pollination, most likely due to changes in the environment or the availability of pollinators. [9] [10] [11] The transfer of pollen is more efficient than previously thought wind pollinated plants have developed to have specific heights, in addition to specific floral, stamen and stigma positions that promote effective pollen dispersal and transfer. [12]

By water Edit

Pollination by water, hydrophily, uses water to transport pollen, sometimes as whole anthers these can travel across the surface of the water to carry dry pollen from one flower to another. [13] In Vallisneria spiralis, an unopened male flower floats to the surface of the water, and, upon reaching the surface, opens up and the fertile anthers project forward. The female flower, also floating, has its stigma protected from the water, while its sepals are slightly depressed into the water, allowing the male flowers to tumble in. [13]

By rain Edit

Rain pollination is used by a small percentage of plants. Heavy rain discourages insect pollination and damages unprotected flowers, but can itself disperse pollen of suitably adapted plants, such as Ranunculus flammula, Narthecium ossifragum, and Caltha palustris. [14] In these plants, excess rain drains allowing the floating pollen to come in contact with the stigma. [14] In some orchids ombrophily occurs, and rain water splashes cause the anther cap to be removed, allowing for the pollen to be exposed. After exposure, raindrops causes the pollen to be shot upward, when the stipe pulls them back, and then fall into the cavity of the stigma. Thus, for the orchid Acampe rigida, this allows the plant to self-pollinate, which is useful when biotic pollinators in the environment have decreased. [15]

Switching methods Edit

It is possible for a plant have varying pollination methods, including both biotic and abiotic pollination. The orchid Oeceoclades maculata uses both rain and butterflies, depending on its environmental conditions. [16]

Biotic Edit

More commonly, pollination involves pollinators (also called pollen vectors): organisms that carry or move the pollen grains from the anther of one flower to the receptive part of the carpel or pistil (stigma) of another. [17] Between 100,000 and 200,000 species of animal act as pollinators of the world's 250,000 species of flowering plant. [18] The majority of these pollinators are insects, but about 1,500 species of birds and mammals visit flowers and may transfer pollen between them. Besides birds and bats which are the most frequent visitors, these include monkeys, lemurs, squirrels, rodents and possums. [18]

Entomophily, pollination by insects, often occurs on plants that have developed colored petals and a strong scent to attract insects such as, bees, wasps and occasionally ants (Hymenoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera), and flies (Diptera). The existence of insect pollination dates back to the dinosaur era. [19]

In zoophily, pollination is performed by vertebrates such as birds and bats, particularly, hummingbirds, sunbirds, spiderhunters, honeyeaters, and fruit bats. Ornithophily or bird pollination is the pollination of flowering plants by birds. Chiropterophily or bat pollination is the pollination of flowering plants by bats. Plants adapted to use bats or moths as pollinators typically have white petals, strong scent and flower at night, whereas plants that use birds as pollinators tend to produce copious nectar and have red petals. [20]

Insect pollinators such as honey bees (Apis spp.), [21] bumblebees (Bombus spp.), [22] [23] and butterflies (e.g., Thymelicus flavus) [24] have been observed to engage in flower constancy, which means they are more likely to transfer pollen to other conspecific plants. [25] This can be beneficial for the pollinators, as flower constancy prevents the loss of pollen during interspecific flights and pollinators from clogging stigmas with pollen of other flower species. It also improves the probability that the pollinator will find productive flowers easily accessible and recognisable by familiar clues. [26]

Some flowers have specialized mechanisms to trap pollinators to increase effectiveness. [27] Other flowers will attract pollinators by odor. For example, bee species such as Euglossa cordata are attracted to orchids this way, and it has been suggested that the bees will become intoxicated during these visits to the orchid flowers, which last up to 90 minutes. [28] However, in general, plants that rely on pollen vectors tend to be adapted to their particular type of vector, for example day-pollinated species tend to be brightly coloured, but if they are pollinated largely by birds or specialist mammals, they tend to be larger and have larger nectar rewards than species that are strictly insect-pollinated. They also tend to spread their rewards over longer periods, having long flowering seasons their specialist pollinators would be likely to starve if the pollination season were too short. [27]

As for the types of pollinators, reptile pollinators are known, but they form a minority in most ecological situations. They are most frequent and most ecologically significant in island systems, where insect and sometimes also bird populations may be unstable and less species-rich. Adaptation to a lack of animal food and of predation pressure, might therefore favour reptiles becoming more herbivorous and more inclined to feed on pollen and nectar. [29] Most species of lizards in the families that seem to be significant in pollination seem to carry pollen only incidentally, especially the larger species such as Varanidae and Iguanidae, but especially several species of the Gekkonidae are active pollinators, and so is at least one species of the Lacertidae, Podarcis lilfordi, which pollinates various species, but in particular is the major pollinator of Euphorbia dendroides on various Mediterranean islands. [30]

Mammals are not generally thought of as pollinators, but some rodents, bats and marsupials are significant pollinators and some even specialise in such activities. In South Africa certain species of Protea (in particular Protea humiflora, P. amplexicaulis, P. subulifolia, P. decurrens and P. cordata) are adapted to pollination by rodents (particularly Cape Spiny Mouse, Acomys subspinosus) [31] and elephant shrews (Elephantulus species). [32] The flowers are borne near the ground, are yeasty smelling, not colourful, and sunbirds reject the nectar with its high xylose content. The mice apparently can digest the xylose and they eat large quantities of the pollen. [33] In Australia pollination by flying, gliding and earthbound mammals has been demonstrated. [34] Examples of pollen vectors include many species of wasps, that transport pollen of many plant species, being potential or even efficient pollinators. [35]

Pollination can be accomplished by cross-pollination or by self-pollination:

  • Cross-pollination, also called allogamy, occurs when pollen is delivered from the stamen of one flower to the stigma of a flower on another plant of the same species. [7] Plants adapted for cross-pollination have several mechanisms to prevent self-pollination the reproductive organs may be arranged in such a way that self-fertilisation is unlikely, or the stamens and carpels may mature at different times. [7]
  • Self-pollination occurs when pollen from one flower pollinates the same flower or other flowers of the same individual. [36] It is thought to have evolved under conditions when pollinators were not reliable vectors for pollen transport, and is most often seen in short-lived annual species and plants that colonize new locations. [37] Self-pollination may include autogamy, where pollen is transferred to the female part of the same flower or geitonogamy, when pollen is transferred to another flower on the same plant. [38] Plants adapted to self-fertilize often have similar stamen and carpel lengths. Plants that can pollinate themselves and produce viable offspring are called self-fertile. Plants that cannot fertilize themselves are called self-sterile, a condition which mandates cross-pollination for the production of offspring. [38]
  • Cleistogamy: is self-pollination that occurs before the flower opens. The pollen is released from the anther within the flower or the pollen on the anther grows a tube down the style to the ovules. It is a type of sexual breeding, in contrast to asexual systems such as apomixis. Some cleistogamous flowers never open, in contrast to chasmogamous flowers that open and are then pollinated. Cleistogamous flowers are by necessity found on self-compatible or self-fertile plants. [39] Although certain orchids and grasses are entirely cleistogamous, other plants resort to this strategy under adverse conditions. Often there may be a mixture of both cleistogamous and chasmogamous flowers, sometimes on different parts of the plant and sometimes in mixed inflorescences. The ground bean produces cleistogamous flowers below ground, and mixed cleistogamous and chasmogamous flowers above. [40]

Geranium incanum, like most geraniums and pelargoniums, sheds its anthers, sometimes its stamens as well, as a barrier to self-pollination. This young flower is about to open its anthers, but has not yet fully developed its pistil.

These Geranium incanum flowers have opened their anthers, but not yet their stigmas. Note the change of colour that signals to pollinators that it is ready for visits.

This Geranium incanum flower has shed its stamens, and deployed the tips of its pistil without accepting pollen from its own anthers. (It might of course still receive pollen from younger flowers on the same plant.)

An estimated 48.7% of plant species are either dioecious or self-incompatible obligate out-crossers. [41] It is also estimated that about 42% of flowering plants have a mixed mating system in nature. [42] In the most common kind of mixed mating system, individual plants produce a single type of flower and fruits may contain self-pollinated, out-crossed or a mixture of progeny types.

Pollination also requires consideration of pollenizers, the plants that serve as the pollen source for other plants. Some plants are self-compatible (self-fertile) and can pollinate and fertilize themselves. Other plants have chemical or physical barriers to self-pollination.

In agriculture and horticulture pollination management, a good pollenizer is a plant that provides compatible, viable and plentiful pollen and blooms at the same time as the plant that is to be pollinated or has pollen that can be stored and used when needed to pollinate the desired flowers. Hybridization is effective pollination between flowers of different species, or between different breeding lines or populations. see also Heterosis.

Peaches are considered self-fertile because a commercial crop can be produced without cross-pollination, though cross-pollination usually gives a better crop. Apples are considered self-incompatible, because a commercial crop must be cross-pollinated. Many commercial fruit tree varieties are grafted clones, genetically identical. An orchard block of apples of one variety is genetically a single plant. Many growers now consider this a mistake. One means of correcting this mistake is to graft a limb of an appropriate pollenizer (generally a variety of crabapple) every six trees or so. [ citation needed ]

The first fossil record for abiotic pollination is from fern-like plants in the late Carboniferous period. Gymnosperms show evidence for biotic pollination as early as the Triassic period. Many fossilized pollen grains show characteristics similar to the biotically dispersed pollen today. Furthermore, the gut contents, wing structures, and mouthpart morphology of fossilized beetles and flies suggest that they acted as early pollinators. The association between beetles and angiosperms during the early Cretaceous period led to parallel radiations of angiosperms and insects into the late Cretaceous. The evolution of nectaries in late Cretaceous flowers signals the beginning of the mutualism between hymenopterans and angiosperms.

Bees provide a good example of the mutualism that exists between hymenopterans and angiosperms. Flowers provide bees with nectar (an energy source) and pollen (a source of protein). When bees go from flower to flower collecting pollen they are also depositing pollen grains onto the flowers, thus pollinating them. While pollen and nectar, in most cases, are the most notable reward attained from flowers, bees also visit flowers for other resources such as oil, fragrance, resin and even waxes. [43] It has been estimated that bees originated with the origin or diversification of angiosperms. [44] In addition, cases of coevolution between bee species and flowering plants have been illustrated by specialized adaptations. For example, long legs are selected for in Rediviva neliana, a bee that collects oil from Diascia capsularis, which have long spur lengths that are selected for in order to deposit pollen on the oil-collecting bee, which in turn selects for even longer legs in R. neliana and again longer spur length in D. capsularis is selected for, thus, continually driving each other's evolution. [45]

The most essential staple food crops on the planet, like wheat, maize, rice, soybeans and sorghum [47] [48] are wind pollinated or self pollinating. When considering the top 15 crops contributing to the human diet globally in 2013, slightly over 10% of the total human diet of plant crops (211 out of 1916 kcal/person/day) is dependent upon insect pollination. [47]

Pollination management is a branch of agriculture that seeks to protect and enhance present pollinators and often involves the culture and addition of pollinators in monoculture situations, such as commercial fruit orchards. The largest managed pollination event in the world is in Californian almond orchards, where nearly half (about one million hives) of the US honey bees are trucked to the almond orchards each spring. New York's apple crop requires about 30,000 hives Maine's blueberry crop uses about 50,000 hives each year. The US solution to the pollinator shortage, so far, has been for commercial beekeepers to become pollination contractors and to migrate. Just as the combine harvesters follow the wheat harvest from Texas to Manitoba, beekeepers follow the bloom from south to north, to provide pollination for many different crops. [ citation needed ]

In America, bees are brought to commercial plantings of cucumbers, squash, melons, strawberries, and many other crops. Honey bees are not the only managed pollinators: a few other species of bees are also raised as pollinators. The alfalfa leafcutter bee is an important pollinator for alfalfa seed in western United States and Canada. Bumblebees are increasingly raised and used extensively for greenhouse tomatoes and other crops.

The ecological and financial importance of natural pollination by insects to agricultural crops, improving their quality and quantity, becomes more and more appreciated and has given rise to new financial opportunities. The vicinity of a forest or wild grasslands with native pollinators near agricultural crops, such as apples, almonds or coffee can improve their yield by about 20%. The benefits of native pollinators may result in forest owners demanding payment for their contribution in the improved crop results – a simple example of the economic value of ecological services. Farmers can also raise native crops in order to promote native bee pollinator species as shown with L. vierecki in Delaware [49] and L. leucozonium in southwest Virginia. [50]

The American Institute of Biological Sciences reports that native insect pollination saves the United States agricultural economy nearly an estimated $3.1 billion annually through natural crop production [51] pollination produces some $40 billion worth of products annually in the United States alone. [52]

Pollination of food crops has become an environmental issue, due to two trends. The trend to monoculture means that greater concentrations of pollinators are needed at bloom time than ever before, yet the area is forage poor or even deadly to bees for the rest of the season. The other trend is the decline of pollinator populations, due to pesticide misuse and overuse, new diseases and parasites of bees, clearcut logging, decline of beekeeping, suburban development, removal of hedges and other habitat from farms, and public concern about bees. Widespread aerial spraying for mosquitoes due to West Nile fears is causing an acceleration of the loss of pollinators.

In some situations, farmers or horticulturists may aim to restrict natural pollination to only permit breeding with the preferred individuals plants. This may be achieved through the use of pollination bags.

Improving pollination in areas with suboptimal bee densities Edit

In some instances growers’ demand for beehives far exceeds the available supply. The number of managed beehives in the US has steadily declined from close to 6 million after WWII, to less than 2.5 million today. In contrast, the area dedicated to growing bee-pollinated crops has grown over 300% in the same time period. Additionally, in the past five years there has been a decline in winter managed beehives, which has reached an unprecedented rate of colony losses at near 30%. [53] [54] [55] [56] At present, there is an enormous demand for beehive rentals that cannot always be met. There is a clear need across the agricultural industry for a management tool to draw pollinators into cultivations and encourage them to preferentially visit and pollinate the flowering crop. By attracting pollinators like honey bees and increasing their foraging behavior, particularly in the center of large plots, we can increase grower returns and optimize yield from their plantings. ISCA Technologies, [57] from Riverside California, created a semiochemical formulation called SPLAT Bloom, that modifies the behavior of honey bees, inciting them to visit flowers in every portion of the field.

Loss of pollinators, also known as Pollinator decline (of which colony collapse disorder is perhaps the most well known) has been noticed in recent years. These loss of pollinators have caused a disturbance in early plant regeneration processes such as seed dispersal and pollination. Early processes of plant regeneration greatly depend on plant-animal interactions and because these interactions are interrupted, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are threatened. [58] Pollination by animals aids in the genetic variability and diversity within plants because it allows for out-crossing instead for self-crossing. Without this genetic diversity there would be a lack of traits for natural selection to act on for the survival of the plant species. Seed dispersal is also important for plant fitness because it allows plants the ability to expand their populations. More than that, it permits plants to escape environments that have changed and have become difficult to reside in. All of these factors show the importance of pollinators for plants, which are a significant part of the foundation for a stable ecosystem. If only a few species of plants depended on Loss of pollinators is especially devastating because there are so many plant species rely on them. More than 87.5% of angiosperms, over 75% of tropical tree species, and 30-40% of tree species in temperate regions depend on pollination and seed dispersal. [58]

Factors that contribute to pollinator decline include habitat destruction, pesticide, parasitism/diseases, and climate change. [59] The more destructive forms of human disturbances are land use changes such as fragmentation, selective logging, and the conversion to secondary forest habitat. [58] Defaunation of frugivores is also an important driver. [60] These alterations are especially harmful due to the sensitivity of the pollination process of plants. [58] Research on tropical palms found that defaunation has caused a decline in seed dispersal, which causes a decrease in genetic variability in this species. [60] Habitat destruction such as fragmentation and selective logging remove areas that are most optimal for the different types of pollinators, which removes pollinators food resources, nesting sites, and leads to isolation of populations. [61] The effect of pesticides on pollinators has been debated because it is difficult to determine that a single pesticide is the cause as opposed to a mixture or other threats. [61] Whether exposure alone causes damage, or if the duration and potency are also factors is unknown. [61] However, insecticides have negative effects, as in the case of neonicotinoids that harm bee colonies. Many researchers believe it is the synergistic effects of these factors which are ultimately detrimental to pollinator populations. [59]

In the agriculture industry, climate change is causing a "pollinator crisis". This crisis is affecting the production of crops, and the relating costs, due to a decrease in pollination processes. [62] This disturbance can be phenological or spatial. In the first case, species that normally occur in similar seasons or time cycles, now have different responses to environmental changes and therefore no longer interact. For example, a tree may flower sooner than usual, while the pollinator may reproduce later in the year and therefore the two species no longer coincide in time. Spatial disturbances occur when two species that would normally share the same distribution now respond differently to climate change and are shifting to different regions. [63] [64]

Examples of affected pollinators Edit

The most known and understood pollinator, bees, have been used as the prime example of the decline in pollinators. Bees are essential in the pollination of agricultural crops and wild plants and are one of the main insects that perform this task. [65] Out of the bees species, the honey bee or Apis mellifera has been studied the most and in the United States, there has been a loss of 59% of colonies from 1947 to 2005. [65] The decrease in populations of the honey bee have been attributed to pesticides, genetically modified crops, fragmentation, parasites and diseases that have been introduced. [66] There has been a focus on neonicotinoids effects on honey bee populations. Neonicotinoids insecticides have been used due to its low mammalian toxicity, target specificity, low application rates, and broad spectrum activity. However, the insecticides are able to make its way throughout the plant, which includes the pollen and nectar. Due to this, it has been shown to effect on the nervous system and colony relations in the honey bee populations. [66]

Butterflies too have suffered due to these modifications. Butterflies are helpful ecological indicators since they are sensitive to changes within the environment like the season, altitude, and above all, human impact on the environment. Butterfly populations were higher within the natural forest and were lower in open land. The reason for the difference in density is the fact that in open land the butterflies would be exposed to desiccation and predation. These open regions are caused by habitat destruction like logging for timber, livestock grazing, and firewood collection. Due to this destruction, butterfly species' diversity can decrease and it is known that there is a correlation in butterfly diversity and plant diversity. [67]

Food security and pollinator decline Edit

Besides the imbalance of the ecosystem caused by the decline in pollinators, it may jeopardise food security. Pollination is necessary for plants to continue their populations and 3/4 of the plant species that contribute to the world's food supply are plants that require pollinators. [68] Insect pollinators, like bees, are large contributors to crop production, over 200 billion dollars worth of crop species are pollinated by these insects. [61] Pollinators are also essential because they improve crop quality and increase genetic diversity, which is necessary in producing fruit with nutritional value and various flavors. [69] Crops that do not depend on animals for pollination but on the wind or self-pollination, like corn and potatoes, have doubled in production and make up a large part of the human diet but do not provide the micronutrients that are needed. [70] The essential nutrients that are necessary in the human diet are present in plants that rely on animal pollinators. [70] There have been issues in vitamin and mineral deficiencies and it is believed that if pollinator populations continue to decrease these deficiencies will become even more prominent. [69]

Wild pollinators often visit a large number of plant species and plants are visited by a large number of pollinator species. All these relations together form a network of interactions between plants and pollinators. Surprising similarities were found in the structure of networks consisting out of the interactions between plants and pollinators. This structure was found to be similar in very different ecosystems on different continents, consisting of entirely different species. [71]

The structure of plant-pollinator networks may have large consequences for the way in which pollinator communities respond to increasingly harsh conditions. Mathematical models, examining the consequences of this network structure for the stability of pollinator communities suggest that the specific way in which plant-pollinator networks are organized minimizes competition between pollinators [72] and may even lead to strong indirect facilitation between pollinators when conditions are harsh. [73] This means that pollinator species together can survive under harsh conditions. But it also means that pollinator species collapse simultaneously when conditions pass a critical point. This simultaneous collapse occurs, because pollinator species depend on each other when surviving under difficult conditions. [73]

Such a community-wide collapse, involving many pollinator species, can occur suddenly when increasingly harsh conditions pass a critical point and recovery from such a collapse might not be easy. The improvement in conditions needed for pollinators to recover, could be substantially larger than the improvement needed to return to conditions at which the pollinator community collapsed. [73]

While there are 200,000 - 350,000 different species of animals that help pollination, bees are responsible for majority of the pollination for consumed crops, providing between $235 and $577 US billion of benefits to global food production. [74] Since the early 1900s, beekeepers in the United States started renting out their colonies to farmers to increase the farmer's crop yields, earning additional revenue from providing privatized pollination. As of 2016, 41% of an average US beekeeper's revenue comes from providing such pollination service to farmers, making it the biggest proportion of their income, with the rest coming from sales of honey, beeswax, government subsidy, etc. [75] This is an example of how a positive externality, pollination of crops from beekeeping and honey-making, was successfully accounted for and incorporated into the overall market for agriculture. On top of assisting food production, pollination service provide beneficial spillovers as bees germinate not only the crops, but also other plants around the area that they are set loose to pollinate, increasing biodiversity for the local ecosystem. [76] There is even further spillover as biodiversity increases ecosystem resistance for wildlife and crops. [77] Due to their role of pollination in crop production, commercial honeybees are considered to be livestock by the US Department of Agriculture. The impact of pollination varies by crop. For example, almond production in the United States, an $11 billion industry based almost exclusively in the state of California, is heavily dependent on bees for pollination of almond trees. Almond industry uses up to 82% of the services in the pollination market. Each February, around 60% of the all bee colonies in the US are moved to California's Central Valley. [78]

Over the past decade, beekeepers across the US have reported that the mortality rate of their bee colonies has stayed constant at about 30% every year, making the deaths an expected cost of business for the beekeepers. While the exact cause of this phenomenon is unknown, according to the US Department of Agriculture Colony Collapse Disorder Progress Report it can be traced to factors such as pollution, pesticides, and pathogens from evidences found in areas of the colonies affected and the colonies themselves. [79] Pollution and pesticides are detrimental to the health of the bees and their colonies as the bees' ability to pollinate and return to their colonies are great greatly compromised. [80] Moreover, California's Central Valley is determined by the World Health Organization as the location of country's worst air pollution. [81] Almond pollinating bees, approximately 60% of the bees in the US as mentioned above, will be mixed with bees from thousands of other hives provided by different beekeepers, making them exponentially susceptible to diseases and mites that any of them could be carrying. [78] The deaths do not stop at commercial honeybees as there is evidence of significant pathogen spillover to other pollinators including wild bumble bees, infecting up to 35-100% of wild bees within 2 km radius of commercial pollination. [82] The negative externality of private pollination services is the decline of biodiversity through the deaths of commercial and wild bees.

Despite losing about a third of their workforce every year, beekeepers continue to rent out their bees to almond farms due to the high pay from the almond industry. In 2016, a colony rented out for almond pollination gave beekeepers an income of $165 per colony rented, around three times from average of other crops that use the pollination rental service. [83] However, a recent study published in Oxford Academic's Journal of Economic Entomology found that once the costs for maintaining bees specifically for almond pollination, including overwintering, summer management, and the replacement dying bees are considered, almond pollination is barely or not profitable for average beekeepers. [84]

One Name, Many Types

There are many types of cells. In biology class, you will usually work with plant-like cells and animal-like cells. We say "animal-like" because an animal type of cell could be anything from a tiny microorganism to a nerve cell in your brain. Biology classes often take out a microscope and look at single-celled microbes from pond water. You might see hydra, amoebas, or euglena.

Plant cells are easier to identify because they have a protective structure called a cell wall made of cellulose. Plants have the wall animals do not. Plants also have organelles such as the green chloroplast or large, water-filled vacuoles. Chloroplasts are the key structure in the process of photosynthesis.

Cells are unique to each type of organism. If you look at very simple organisms, you will discover cells that have no defined nucleus (prokaryotes) and other cells that have hundreds of nuclei (multinucleated).

Humans have hundreds of different cell types. You have red blood cells that are used to carry oxygen (O2) through the body and other cells specific to your heart muscle. Even though cells can be very different, they are basically compartments surrounded by some type of membrane.

Sclerenchyma Cells

Sclerenchyma cells also have a support function in plants, but unlike collenchyma cells, they have a hardening agent in their cell walls and are much more rigid. These cells have thick secondary cell walls and are non-living once matured. There are two types of sclerenchyma cells: sclereids and fibers.

Sclerids have varied sizes and shapes, and most of the volume of these cells is taken up by the cell wall. Sclerids are very hard and form the hard outer shell of nuts and seeds. Fibers are elongated, slender cells that are strand-like in appearance. Fibers are strong and flexible and are found in stems, roots, fruit walls, and leaf vascular bundles.


Agosta, William. Bombardier Beetles and Fever Trees: A Close-up Look at Chemical Warfare and Signals in Animals and Plants. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1996.

Bidlack, Wayne R. Phytochemicals as Bioactive Agents. Lancaster, PA: Technomic Publishers, 2000.

Karban, Richard, and Ian T. Baldwin. Induced Responses to Herbivory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Rosenthal, Gerald A., and May R. Berenbaum. Herbivores, Their Interactions with Secondary Plant Metabolites. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1991.


The roots of seed plants have three major functions: anchoring the plant to the soil, absorbing water and minerals and transporting them upwards, and storing the products of photosynthesis. Some roots are modified to absorb moisture and exchange gases. Most roots are underground. Some plants, however, also have adventitious roots, which emerge above the ground from the shoot.

Types of Root Systems

Root systems are mainly of two types (Figure 20). Dicots have a tap root system, while monocots have a fibrous root system. A tap root system has a main root that grows down vertically, and from which many smaller lateral roots arise. Dandelions are a good example their tap roots usually break off when trying to pull these weeds, and they can regrow another shoot from the remaining root). A tap root system penetrates deep into the soil. In contrast, a fibrous root system is located closer to the soil surface, and forms a dense network of roots that also helps prevent soil erosion (lawn grasses are a good example, as are wheat, rice, and corn). Some plants have a combination of tap roots and fibrous roots. Plants that grow in dry areas often have deep root systems, whereas plants growing in areas with abundant water are likely to have shallower root systems.

Figure 20. (a) Tap root systems have a main root that grows down, while (b) fibrous root systems consist of many small roots. (credit b: modification of work by “Austen Squarepants”/Flickr)

Root Growth and Anatomy

Figure 21. A longitudinal view of the root reveals the zones of cell division, elongation, and maturation. Cell division occurs in the apical meristem.

Root growth begins with seed germination. When the plant embryo emerges from the seed, the radicle of the embryo forms the root system. The tip of the root is protected by the root cap, a structure exclusive to roots and unlike any other plant structure. The root cap is continuously replaced because it gets damaged easily as the root pushes through soil. The root tip can be divided into three zones: a zone of cell division, a zone of elongation, and a zone of maturation and differentiation (Figure 21). The zone of cell division is closest to the root tip it is made up of the actively dividing cells of the root meristem. The zone of elongation is where the newly formed cells increase in length, thereby lengthening the root. Beginning at the first root hair is the zone of cell maturation where the root cells begin to differentiate into special cell types. All three zones are in the first centimeter or so of the root tip.

The root has an outer layer of cells called the epidermis, which surrounds areas of ground tissue and vascular tissue. The epidermis provides protection and helps in absorption. Root hairs, which are extensions of root epidermal cells, increase the surface area of the root, greatly contributing to the absorption of water and minerals.

Figure 22. Staining reveals different cell types in this light micrograph of a wheat (Triticum) root cross section. Sclerenchyma cells of the exodermis and xylem cells stain red, and phloem cells stain blue. Other cell types stain black. The stele, or vascular tissue, is the area inside endodermis (indicated by a green ring). Root hairs are visible outside the epidermis. (credit: scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

Inside the root, the ground tissue forms two regions: the cortex and the pith (Figure 22). Compared to stems, roots have lots of cortex and little pith. Both regions include cells that store photosynthetic products. The cortex is between the epidermis and the vascular tissue, whereas the pith lies between the vascular tissue and the center of the root.

The vascular tissue in the root is arranged in the inner portion of the root, which is called the stele (Figure 23). A layer of cells known as the endodermis separates the stele from the ground tissue in the outer portion of the root. The endodermis is exclusive to roots, and serves as a checkpoint for materials entering the root’s vascular system. A waxy substance called suberin is present on the walls of the endodermal cells. This waxy region, known as the Casparian strip, forces water and solutes to cross the plasma membranes of endodermal cells instead of slipping between the cells. This ensures that only materials required by the root pass through the endodermis, while toxic substances and pathogens are generally excluded. The outermost cell layer of the root’s vascular tissue is the pericycle, an area that can give rise to lateral roots. In dicot roots, the xylem and phloem of the stele are arranged alternately in an X shape, whereas in monocot roots, the vascular tissue is arranged in a ring around the pith.

Figure 23. In (left) typical dicots, the vascular tissue forms an X shape in the center of the root. In (right) typical monocots, the phloem cells and the larger xylem cells form a characteristic ring around the central pith.

Root Modifications

Figure 24. Many vegetables are modified roots.

Root structures may be modified for specific purposes. For example, some roots are bulbous and store starch. Aerial roots and prop roots are two forms of aboveground roots that provide additional support to anchor the plant. Tap roots, such as carrots, turnips, and beets, are examples of roots that are modified for food storage (Figure 24).

Epiphytic roots enable a plant to grow on another plant. For example, the epiphytic roots of orchids develop a spongy tissue to absorb moisture. The banyan tree (Ficus sp.) begins as an epiphyte, germinating in the branches of a host tree aerial roots develop from the branches and eventually reach the ground, providing additional support (Figure 25). In screwpine (Pandanus sp.), a palm-like tree that grows in sandy tropical soils, aboveground prop roots develop from the nodes to provide additional support.

Figure 25. The (a) banyan tree, also known as the strangler fig, begins life as an epiphyte in a host tree. Aerial roots extend to the ground and support the growing plant, which eventually strangles the host tree. The (b) screwpine develops aboveground roots that help support the plant in sandy soils. (credit a: modification of work by “psyberartist”/Flickr credit b: modification of work by David Eikhoff)

Practice Questions

Compare a tap root system with a fibrous root system. For each type, name a plant that provides a food in the human diet. Which type of root system is found in monocots? Which type of root system is found in dicots?

What might happen to a root if the pericycle disappeared?

Watch the video: Plant Structure and Adaptations (January 2022).