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; 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. 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.
Plant 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. It 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. It 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. In stems, the xylem and the phloem form a structure called a vascular bundle (Figure 1); in roots, this is termed the vascular stele or vascular cylinder.
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 (Figure 2). 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.