Homeostasis in Plants

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  • 0:02 Homeostasis
  • 0:43 Regulating Temperature
  • 1:58 Regulating Water & Food
  • 3:57 Tropism, Nastism & Taxism
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Gorski

Steph has a PhD in Entomology and teaches college biology and ecology.

In this lesson, we'll discuss what homeostasis is and how plants achieve homeostasis. We'll also talk about how plants handle heat, water, and nutrients and how they respond to their environment.


Do you try to warm up when you're cold, cool down when you're hot, eat when you're hungry, and drink when you're thirsty? Congratulations - you're alive! Assuming you're not a brick, rock, or zombie, you try to keep the conditions you're in relatively comfortable. But you have all sorts of complex mechanisms to do so, like your thumbs, muscles, and brain. Plants have to do the same but without the tools you have. How do they do it? Homeostasis is a property of systems that regulate themselves to a relatively stable state; simply put, homeostasis is just balance.

Regulating Temperature

Plants must balance the heat they gain with the heat they lose. You may have noticed that white things seem cooler to the touch in the hot sun.This is because white reflects sunlight. Some plants in hot climates have silvery or whitish leaves for just this reason. One example is the desert brittlebush, which is native to the southwestern United States. The desert brittlebush's whitish color comes from the fine hairs on its leaf surface, and scientists have determined that these hairs keep the leaves several degrees cooler than they would be without them.

Plants in colder climates also have to protect themselves against the cold. For example, deciduous trees drop their leaves in cold weather to reduce their metabolism. A more unusual example is the Arctic poppy, which grows in the direction of the sun to increase the amount of radiative heat it gains. This is called heliotropism. The bowl-shaped Arctic poppy can increase its temperature up to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, which not only speeds up seed production, but also provides an inviting and cozy place for pollinating insects to visit.

Regulating Water & Food

If you have ever seen a wilted plant, you know that they have to regulate their water use. Most of the water plants lose is through transpiration, where water evaporates through tiny pores called stomata. Plants need stomata because these openings help plants uptake CO2 for photosynthesis and because transpiration helps plants pull water up from their roots. But losing too much water through stomata can be a problem if it is dry outside. So plants have mechanisms by which they can close their stomata when the weather is dry. Some desert plants, like cacti, only open their stomata at night.

Some groups of cacti have fairly large leaves, but many don't appear to have leaves at all. Cactus 'leaves' are microscopic. Cactus spines are generally considered to be modified leaves. Without leaves, cacti have a reduced surface area, which means that they absorb less heat and lose less water. However, this strategy is still somewhat puzzling. For instance, some plants can drop or curl their leaves to reduce surface area when conditions are especially dry. Cacti with reduced or absent leaves do not have that option.

Plants in dry climates often have deeper roots, so they can find water that is further underground. Some desert-adapted plants, like cacti, have thick stems that can store water.

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