Meristematic Tissue: Definition & Function

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brenda Steadham

Brenda has worked with K-12 students in life science, chemistry, and language arts. She holds a master's degree in Biological Sciences.

Have you ever wondered if a plant grows from the top or the bottom? Or how it gets bigger around? In this lesson, we'll explore the role of meristematic tissue in plant growth.

What Is Meristematic Tissue?

Think for a moment about a new, unprogrammed computer. It's a blank slate--it can potentially run any program. But once you install an operating system, all that changes. Now, the computer can only execute programs compatible with that system. Meristematic tissue is like an unprogrammed computer--it is made of cells that haven't been assigned a role within the plant, or undifferentiated cells. These cells could do or be anything, just like that blank computer. Once a cell's role is assigned though (just like when the computer is programmed), its function becomes limited.

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Properties of Meristematic Cells

Cells within meristematic tissues have special characteristics that make them unique when compared to cells in mature, specialized plant tissue. Cells within meristematic tissue are self-renewing, meaning that every time they divide, one new cell remains meristematic, while the second heads off to become a programmed or specialized mature cell.

Additionally, all cells within meristematic tissue are living, while other plant tissue can be made of both living and dead cells. Meristematic cells have thin cell walls, small or no vacuoles, which are stored organelles, and large prominent nucleus. This compares to the thick walls and small nucleus of programmed cells, which also have one or more large vacuoles. Also, meristematic cells contain a significant volume of dense liquid, while specialized cells have only a small quantity of think liquid.

Types of Meristematic Tissue

Based on its location in a plant, meristematic tissues fall into two categories: primary and secondary. Both types produce new cells through mitotic division, or the splitting of the cell in two. However, the growth pattern they produce differs. Primary meristematic tissue helps the plant increase in length or vertical growth, meaning it helps the plant grow up toward the sun and down into the soil. Secondary meristematic tissue helps the plant increase the girth or lateral growth of its stems, branches, and roots. Secondary meristematic growth is also responsible for producing the bark on woody trees.

Location of Primary Meristematic Tissue

The location of primary meristematic tissue is key in understanding how it is able to produce vertical growth in the plant. In monocots, or plants with one seed leaf, primary meristematic tissue is found in the intercalary nodes. The intercalary nodes are located between areas of mature growth, kind of like the joint region on a plant. And in dicots, or plants with two seed leaves, primary meristematic tissues are found in apical regions--the tips of roots, shoots, and leaf and flower buds.

Location of Secondary Meristematic Tissue

Secondary meristematic tissues are found in all woody plants. These tissues lead to the production of cambium, which is the outer layer of wood on trees that can be visually seen when you cut a tree down and look at the cross-section.

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