The Plant Stem: Function, Types & Parts

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  • 0:00 Definition of a Plant Stem
  • 3:36 Types of Plant Stems
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to explain what a plant stem is, describe the various parts and what they do, and name the two main types of stems. A short quiz will follow.

Definition of a Plant Stem

Plants are complex systems. Like the road systems of cities, they have a network of pathways. Instead of cars, trains, and trucks, you have water, food, and minerals. And just like with roads, you have both one-way and two-way streets: paths to carry water and minerals from the soil, and paths to carry food from the leaves. Today we're going to talk about a part of the plant that's particularly important for transport: the stem.

The stem of a plant is one of two structural parts of a vascular plant (a plant that has tissues for moving water and nutrients), the other being the root. The stem is the part above ground which provides support for leaves and buds. It's like the major highway of a plant, and it's vital for plant life. Nodes are the places on a stem where leaves and buds are found (the exits or intersections), and internodes are the areas in between nodes.

People often confuse stems and shoots, but shoots are just fresh plant growths out of the ground. These growths can include both stems and leaves. Anything that's newly grown and sticks out of the ground is considered to be a shoot.

Stems have several jobs. They provide support for the leaves, flowers, and fruits of plants. They help the plant reach for light; they transport water and minerals. They help store nutrients; and they produce new plant tissue.

If you were to look carefully at the cross section of a stem, you would find several layers inside, each of which has a different job. From the outside to inside, the layers are: bark or epidermis, phloem, cambium, xylem, and pith. The epidermis is the outer layer of the stem. It adds stability and protects the plant from wind and rain. It is able to do this because its cells are wax-coated. This is like the foundation of the highway.

The phloem is one of the transport tubes of the plant, moving sugars, which are used for energy, around the plant. This is essentially the food of the plant, so the phloem's job is to distribute food. It's like a slow lane containing a supermarket convoy of trucks, all full of groceries. The cambium is an area of high cell growth. It has the phloem on the outside and the xylem on the inside. The cambium provides cells for both layers on either side, increasing the width of the stem. It's similar to an area of road construction where extra lanes are being added.

The xylem is a transport tube, like the phloem, but instead of transporting food, it transports water and minerals from the roots. It also provides the bulk of the plant's support system and is the more woody part of the plant. This is an especially large feature for trees, which contain large amounts of wood, wood that we use to build homes and furniture. The xylem is like an express lane that only goes in one direction: always up from the roots.

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