Plant Epidermis: Function & Structure

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  • 0:04 What is a Plant Epidermis?
  • 0:55 Structure
  • 1:54 Function
  • 3:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

How do plants protect their internal parts from damage and disease? A specialized layer of cells called the epidermis covers the entire plant, and it serves a variety of functions that make it essential to plant survival.

What is a Plant Epidermis?

You may have heard at some point that your skin is the largest organ in your body. Besides being large, your skin is very important because it protects everything underneath it from disease, temperature, and other physical damage that may occur.

Much like your skin, a plant has a tissue system, a group of cells that work together for a very specific function, that form the first line of defense against physical damage and disease. This tissue system is called the dermal tissue system, and it is the plant's outer protective coating.

The dermal system itself consists of a layer of tightly packed cells called the epidermis. On most plant stems and leaves, the epidermis is covered with a waxy coating called the cuticle, which helps prevent water loss through the epidermis.


Plant epidermis is unique because it is actually two different layers of cells: the upper epidermis and the lower epidermis.

Sandwiched in between these two layers are two other important tissue systems - the vascular tissue system and the ground tissue system. The vascular tissue system provides water and nutrient transport from the roots to other parts of the plant. The ground tissue system, also called the mesophyll, is specialized for photosynthesis, the process by which the plant converts sunlight into usable chemical energy.

But if the epidermis covers the mesophyll, how does photosynthesis occur here? The epidermis is actually interrupted by small pores called stomata. These openings allow the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen, which powers photosynthesis. Stomata are controlled by guard cells, which regulate the extent to which the stomata are open or closed.


Serving as a plant's skin, epidermis cells protect internal tissues from the outside world by creating a barrier. But the epidermis also serves a variety of other functions for plants.

When stomata open to exchange gases during photosynthesis, water is also lost through these small openings by evaporation. Plants do not like losing water, and the waxy cuticle of the epidermis helps minimize this loss, keeping plants from drying out.

The epidermis also helps protect plants from being eaten by animals and parasites. Many plants have thick hairs or spines that come from the epidermis, making it very unattractive to a hungry animal. Think of a cactus with its large spines. The danger associated with trying to access what's behind those spines likely makes that plant very unappealing to you!

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