Transport in plants

Small unicellular organisms such as amoeba and paramecium, and small multicellular organisms like flat worms and sea anemones have a large surface area to volume ratio. Such properties allow them to transport food and gases around their cells by the process of diffusion. Their large surface areas allow gases to travel into their cells by diffusion, and once inside the cell diffusion is sufficient to cover the small distances from one part of the cell to the other.

Multicellular organisms like plants and animals have a small surface area to volume ratio. They are made up of tissues, organs and organ systems. In addition, the more complex organisms may be covered by shells, scales, feathers, skin or hairs which do not allow diffusion. Such organisms therefore need a transport or circulatory system because diffusion alone is not capable of meeting the transport requirements for survival.

The transport system in plants is made up of a network of thin tubes which carry liquids all around the plant. Collectively these tubes are bundled together and form the vascular bundles. The vascular bundles reach all the tissues and organs of the plant.

There are two different types of thin tubes or transport tissues which make up the vascular bundles in plants.

  • Xylem
  • Phloem

 

Xylem

The xylem vessels transport water and minerals from the roots to the shoots and leaves.

This movement of water and minerals through the plant is called transpiration.

Xylem vessels are hollow tubes or lumen with a thick strengthened cellulose cell wall.

The hollow tubes act like pipes allowing water and dissolved minerals to flow through them. They develop from cylindrical cells arranged end to end, in which the cytoplasm dies and the cell walls between adjoining cells breaks down leaving a dead empty tube.

The cell walls in xylem vessels contain a substance called lignin which strengthens the cells and gives structural support.

 



Phloem

Phloem tubes carry food substances like sugar and amino acids produced in leaves during photosynthesis to every part of the plant.

The movement of food substances through the plant is called translocation.

Phloem tubes are made up of columns of living cylindrical cells. The cell walls between adjoining cells develop holes like a sieve allowing transport through the tube.

 

The image below shows the structure of the xylem and phloem

 

The table below summarise the main points about the xylem and phloem

Tissue XYLEM PHLOEM
Diagram
Transport Water and mineral from the roots to the shoots and leaves Sugar and amino acids produced in leaves during photosynthesis to every part of the plant.
Process Transpiration Translocation
Structure Cylindrical cells arranged end to end, in which the cytoplasm dies and the cell walls between adjoining cells breaks down leaving a dead empty tube with strengthened cell walls. Phloem tubes are made up of columns of living cylindrical cells. The cell walls between adjoining cells develop holes like a sieve allowing transport through the tube.