sometimes, taking stuff apart helps us understand how things work. plant cells are no exception. revisiting cell structure can be interesting if you ever wonder why favorite houseplant has been drooping, or how beautiful fall color happens every year. and, don’t panic…there will not be a quiz at the end of this post, so please, no flashbacks to high school science class. but i do want your undivided attention, and i certainly don’t want to find any gum stuck under the desks.
firstly, the bones. while animals have an internal skeleton for support, plants rely on their cellulose-based cell walls. also contributing to a cell’s structure is the turgor pressure (the pressure exerted from water) within the vacuole. when you take both of these into mind, it makes sense to use caution to be gentle with stems and leaves to avoid crushing the cell walls, and why proper watering is important to keep the plant from wilting. (but, be sure to not overwater–because when the soil is saturated, the roots are swimming and can’t take up any oxygen at all.)
secondly, the brains. each cell has a nucleus that contains the DNA to pass on to the next generation of cells. and don’t that just make your brown eyes blue?
thirdly, color! one of the major differences between plant cells and those of animals is the green, green pigment of chlorophyll. stored in plastids called chloroplasts ‘floating’ in the cytoplasm, the chlorophyll absorbs radiant energy from light to kick start photosynthesis. and it’s no big deal. it’s just a plant saying, “i’m just gonna just take this sunlight, and this air, and this water in the soil and make…oh, i guess i’ll just manufacture my own food. and then i’ll convert that food into energy to grow myself, providing a delicious salad for someone’s lunch, and sustaining life on earth as we know it…” no biggie, right?
but, back to color. the pigment carotenoid, responsible for yellows, oranges, and browns (think corn, carrots, bananas,) is always present in the leaves, and is unmasked when the abundance of chlorophyll drops as fall temperatures do. another pigment, anthocyanin, is responsible for reds, purples, and crimsons (think cranberries, apples, cherries.) Unlike chlorophyll and carotenoid, anthocyanin is produced only in cooler weather and only in certain plants such as dogwood and sumac.
p.s. thanks to biologycorner.com for the cool plant cell picture!