In this section, you will explore the following questions:

  • What are differences between the shoot organ system and the root organ system?
  • What are differences between meristematic tissues and permanent tissues?
  • What are the three regions where plant growth occurs?
  • What are the role of dermal tissues, vascular tissues, and ground tissues?
  • What is the difference between simple plant tissues and complex plant tissues?

Connection for AP® Courses

Much of the content in this chapter is not within the scope of AP®, including information about the different kinds of tissues that comprise the plant body. However, the evolution of vascular tissue made possible the transition of plants from aquatic to terrestrial environments. Xylem and phloem transport water, minerals, and sugars produced through photosynthesis through the plant body (see the // email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.:f7bcd22d-1a98-4ff1-ad5c-39f8a59a79d1@13" data-page="252">Transport of Water and Solutes in Plants module). In addition all plant species respond to environmental factors, such as light, gravity, competition, temperature, and predation (see the // email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.:38d757ee-f462-4937-991f-a4b9de126698@11" data-page="253">Plant Sensory Systems and Reponses module). Like animals, plants contain cells with organelles, in which specific metabolic activities occur, and specialized tissues and organs. Unlike animals, plant use energy from sunlight to synthesize sugars during photosynthesis—creating the food that supports life on this planet. Without plants, life on Earth could not exist.

With the exception of vascular tissue—which we will explore in detail in the // email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.:f7bcd22d-1a98-4ff1-ad5c-39f8a59a79d1@13" data-page="252">Transport of Water and Solutes in Plants module—information presented in this section, and the examples highlighted, does not align to the content and AP® Learning Objectives outlined in the AP® Curriculum Framework.

The Science Practice Challenge Questions contain additional test questions for this section that will help you prepare for the AP exam. These questions address the following standards:
[APLO 2.3][APLO 2.4][APLO 2.28][APLO 4.15][APLO 4.14][APLO 4.21]

Like eukaryotes, plants contain cells with organelles in which specific metabolic activities take place. Unlike animals, however, plants use energy from sunlight to form sugars during photosynthesis. In addition, plant cells have cell walls, plastids, and a large central vacuole: structures that are not found in animal cells. Each of these cellular structures plays a specific role in plant structure and function.


Watch Botany Without Borders, a video produced by the Botanical Society of America about the importance of plants.

When the link opens to the page “Botany Without Borders” click on the menu item, “Plants Are Cool Too!” View the video Angiosperms: The Secrets of Flowers, by Botanical Society of America (BSA) member Kate March, and answer the question below. Which group of plants dominates the landscape on Earth?
  1. conifers
  2. mosses
  3. ferns
  4. flowering plants

Plant Organ Systems

In plants, just as in animals, similar cells working together form a tissue. When different types of tissues work together to perform a unique function, they form an organ; organs working together form organ systems. Vascular plants have two distinct organ systems: a shoot system, and a root system. The shoot system consists of two portions: the vegetative (non-reproductive) parts of the plant, such as the leaves and the stems, and the reproductive parts of the plant, which include flowers and fruits. The shoot system generally grows above ground, where it absorbs the light needed for photosynthesis. The root system, which supports the plants and absorbs water and minerals, is usually underground. // email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.:tj9xNrUR@13/23-1-The-Plant-Body#fig-ch30_01_01">Figure 23.2 shows the organ systems of a typical plant.

 Illustration shows a dandelion plant. The shoot system consists of leaves and a flower on a stem. The root system consists of a single, thick root that branches into smaller roots.
Figure 23.2The shoot system of a plant consists of leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits. The root system anchors the plant while absorbing water and minerals from the soil.

Plant Tissues

Plants are multicellular eukaryotes with tissue systems made of various cell types that carry out specific functions. Plant tissue systems fall into one of two general types: meristematic tissue, and permanent (or non-meristematic) tissue. Cells of the meristematic tissue are found in meristems, which are plant regions of continuous cell division and growth. Meristematic tissue cells are either undifferentiated or incompletely differentiated, and they continue to divide and contribute to the growth of the plant. In contrast, permanent tissue consists of plant cells that are no longer actively dividing.

Meristematic tissues consist of three types, based on their location in the plant. Apical meristems contain meristematic tissue located at the tips of stems and roots, which enable a plant to extend in length. Lateral meristems facilitate growth in thickness or girth in a maturing plant. Intercalary meristems occur only in monocots, at the bases of leaf blades and at nodes (the areas where leaves attach to a stem). This tissue enables the monocot leaf blade to increase in length from the leaf base; for example, it allows lawn grass leaves to elongate even after repeated mowing.

Meristems produce cells that quickly differentiate, or specialize, and become permanent tissue. Such cells take on specific roles and lose their ability to divide further. They differentiate into three main types: dermal, vascular, and ground tissue. Dermal tissue covers and protects the plant, and vascular tissue transports water, minerals, and sugars to different parts of the plant. Ground tissue serves as a site for photosynthesis, provides a supporting matrix for the vascular tissue, and helps to store water and sugars.

Secondary tissues are either simple (composed of similar cell types) or complex (composed of different cell types). Dermal tissue, for example, is a simple tissue that covers the outer surface of the plant and controls gas exchange. Vascular tissue is an example of a complex tissue, and is made of two specialized conducting tissues: xylem and phloem. Xylem tissue transports water and nutrients from the roots to different parts of the plant, and includes three different cell types: vessel elements and tracheids (both of which conduct water), and xylem parenchyma. Phloem tissue, which transports organic compounds from the site of photosynthesis to other parts of the plant, consists of four different cell types: sieve cells (which conduct photosynthates), companion cells, phloem parenchyma, and phloem fibers. Unlike xylem conducting cells, phloem conducting cells are alive at maturity. The xylem and phloem always lie adjacent to each other (// email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.:tj9xNrUR@13/23-1-The-Plant-Body#fig-ch30_01_02">Figure 23.3). In stems, the xylem and the phloem form a structure called a vascular bundle; in roots, this is termed the vascular stele or vascular cylinder.

Micrograph shows a round plant stem cross section. There are four teardrop-shaped vascular bundles, with the narrow point of the teardrop meeting at a round xylem vessel. Within each teardrop near the center are two to four more xylem vessels. To the outside of the xylem vessels are much smaller phloem cells. The four vascular bundles are encased in ground tissue. Cells of the ground tissue are somewhat larger than phloem. The stem is protected by an outer layer of dermal tissue, made up of several layers of cells smaller than phloem cells.
Figure 23.3This light micrograph shows a cross section of a squash (Cucurbita maxima) stem. Each teardrop-shaped vascular bundle consists of large xylem vessels toward the inside and smaller phloem cells toward the outside. Xylem cells, which transport water and nutrients from the roots to the rest of the plant, are dead at functional maturity. Phloem cells, which transport sugars and other organic compounds from photosynthetic tissue to the rest of the plant, are living. The vascular bundles are encased in ground tissue and surrounded by dermal tissue. (credit: modification of work by "(biophotos)"/Flickr; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)