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23.1The Plant Body

A vascular plant consists of two organ systems: the shoot system and the root system. The shoot system includes the aboveground vegetative portions (stems and leaves) and reproductive parts (flowers and fruits). The root system supports the plant and is usually underground. A plant is composed of two main types of tissue: meristematic tissue and permanent tissue. Meristematic tissue consists of actively dividing cells found in root and shoot tips. As growth occurs, meristematic tissue differentiates into permanent tissue, which is categorized as either simple or complex. Simple tissues are made up of similar cell types; examples include dermal tissue and ground tissue. Dermal tissue provides the outer covering of the plant. Ground tissue is responsible for photosynthesis; it also supports vascular tissue and may store water and sugars. Complex tissues are made up of different cell types. Vascular tissue, for example, is made up of xylem and phloem cells.

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23.2Stems

The stem of a plant bears the leaves, flowers, and fruits. Stems are characterized by the presence of nodes (the points of attachment for leaves or branches) and internodes (regions between nodes).

Plant organs are made up of simple and complex tissues. The stem has three tissue systems: dermal, vascular, and ground tissue. Dermal tissue is the outer covering of the plant. It contains epidermal cells, stomata, guard cells, and trichomes. Vascular tissue is made up of xylem and phloem tissues and conducts water, minerals, and photosynthetic products. Ground tissue is responsible for photosynthesis and support and is composed of parenchyma, collenchyma, and sclerenchyma cells.

Primary growth occurs at the tips of roots and shoots, causing an increase in length. Woody plants may also exhibit secondary growth, or increase in thickness. In woody plants, especially trees, annual rings may form as growth slows at the end of each season. Some plant species have modified stems that help to store food, propagate new plants, or discourage predators. Rhizomes, corms, stolons, runners, tubers, bulbs, tendrils, and thorns are examples of modified stems.

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23.3Roots

Roots help to anchor a plant, absorb water and minerals, and serve as storage sites for food. Taproots and fibrous roots are the two main types of root systems. In a taproot system, a main root grows vertically downward with a few lateral roots. Fibrous root systems arise at the base of the stem, where a cluster of roots forms a dense network that is shallower than a taproot. The growing root tip is protected by a root cap. The root tip has three main zones: a zone of cell division (cells are actively dividing), a zone of elongation (cells increase in length), and a zone of maturation (cells differentiate to form different kinds of cells). Root vascular tissue conducts water, minerals, and sugars. In some habitats, the roots of certain plants may be modified to form aerial roots or epiphytic roots.

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23.4Leaves

Leaves are the main site of photosynthesis. A typical leaf consists of a lamina (the broad part of the leaf, also called the blade) and a petiole (the stalk that attaches the leaf to a stem). The arrangement of leaves on a stem, known as phyllotaxy, enables maximum exposure to sunlight. Each plant species has a characteristic leaf arrangement and form. The pattern of leaf arrangement may be alternate, opposite, or spiral, while leaf form may be simple or compound. Leaf tissue consists of the epidermis, which forms the outermost cell layer, and mesophyll and vascular tissue, which make up the inner portion of the leaf. In some plant species, leaf form is modified to form structures such as tendrils, spines, bud scales, and needles.

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23.5Transport of Water and Solutes in Plants

Water potential (Ψ) is a measure of the difference in potential energy between a water sample and pure water. The water potential in plant solutions is influenced by solute concentration, pressure, gravity, and matric potential. Water potential and transpiration influence how water is transported through the xylem in plants. These processes are regulated by stomatal opening and closing. Photosynthates (mainly sucrose) move from sources to sinks through the plant’s phloem. Sucrose is actively loaded into the sieve-tube elements of the phloem. The increased solute concentration causes water to move by osmosis from the xylem into the phloem. The positive pressure that is produced pushes water and solutes down the pressure gradient. The sucrose is unloaded into the sink, and the water returns to the xylem vessels.

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23.6Plant Sensory Systems and Responses

Plants respond to light by changes in morphology and activity. Irradiation by red light converts the photoreceptor phytochrome to its far-red light-absorbing form—Pfr. This form controls germination and flowering in response to length of day, as well as triggers photosynthesis in dormant plants or those that just emerged from the soil. Blue-light receptors, cryptochromes, and phototropins are responsible for phototropism. Amyloplasts, which contain heavy starch granules, sense gravity. Shoots exhibit negative gravitropism, whereas roots exhibit positive gravitropism. Plant hormones—naturally occurring compounds synthesized in small amounts—can act both in the cells that produce them and in distant tissues and organs. Auxins are responsible for apical dominance, root growth, directional growth toward light, and many other growth responses. Cytokinins stimulate cell division and counter apical dominance in shoots. Gibberellins inhibit dormancy of seeds and promote stem growth. Abscisic acid induces dormancy in seeds and buds, and protects plants from excessive water loss by promoting stomatal closure. Ethylene gas speeds up fruit ripening and dropping of leaves. Plants respond to touch by rapid movements (thigmotropy and thigmonasty) and slow differential growth (thigmomorphogenesis). Plants have evolved defense mechanisms against predators and pathogens. Physical barriers like bark and spines protect tender tissues. Plants also have chemical defenses, including toxic secondary metabolites and hormones, which elicit additional defense mechanisms.