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Turgor Pressure in Plants: Definition & Overview

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Elizabeth Friedl

Elizabeth, a Licensed Massage Therapist, has a Master's in Zoology from North Carolina State, one in GIS from Florida State University, and a Bachelor's in Biology from Eastern Michigan University. She has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

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Shelby DeVore

Shelby has a BS in Animal Science and a MS in Agriculture and Natural Resources. She taught high school and college animal science and biology courses for over 5 years.

In plants, turgor pressure makes the tissue inside plants inflexible, preventing leaves and flowers from wilting. Explore the definition and overview of turgor pressure in plants. Learn how it works, and review the hypertonic, hypotonic, and isotonic solutions, as well as osmosis. Updated: 10/11/2021

What is Turgor Pressure?

You can probably recognize a dying house plant. Its stem bends over, its leaves wilt. If you catch it in time, sometimes a good watering will allow the plant to suck in the water, fill its cells, and return it back to its straight, upright position.

Why does this happen?

Plant cells are very much like your own cells, except they are surrounded by a cell wall. This cell wall is part of what gives plants such a rigid and sturdy structure. Plant cells need a certain amount of pressure to make sure that the cell wall stays rigid. Pressure from fluid within the cell pushing against the cell wall is called turgor pressure.

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How It Works

The way a cell maintains pressure is through a process called osmosis. Osmosis is the diffusion of water through a semipermeable membrane, in this case, the cell wall. Even though it's called a wall, water can pass through it in both directions. Water flows from a low concentration of particles, called solutes, to a high concentration, thus balancing the ratio of particles and water.

When a plant cell is in a solution that contains more solutes than the inside of the cell, this is called a hypertonic solution. The water from the inside of the cell rushes out to the surrounding solution, and the cell becomes plasmolyzed. This means that the inside of the cells shrink away from the cell wall. This is very unhealthy for the cell because it loses not only its water but also its rigidity and structure, often causing the plant to wilt.

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Additional Activities

Turgor Pressure Lab:

Plant cells need to be able to take in the proper amount of water through the process of osmosis to maintain their upright structure. In this lab, you'll record the weights of two pieces of potato in a hypertonic solution and a hypotonic solution. The cells that make up potatoes are the same that are used to create turgor pressure in plants.

For this lab, you'll need two pieces of peeled potato (roughly the same size), two weigh boats, salt water, distilled water and a triple beam balance or digital scale. Complete the data, observations, and questions as you complete the lab.

Procedure:

1. Cut two pieces of potato that are approximately the same size.

2. Label one of the weigh boats 'A' for salt water and the other 'B' for distilled water.

3. Fill the weigh boat labeled 'A' about halfway full with salt water.

4. Fill the weigh boat labeled 'B' about halfway with distilled water.

5. Place the first piece of potato on the balance (or scale) and weigh it. Record the weight.

6. Place the weighed potato piece into the salt water solution.

7. Place the second piece of potato on the balance (or scale) and weigh it. Record the weight.

8. Place the second potato piece into the distilled water.

9. Allow the potatoes to soak for 20 minutes.

10. Once the potatoes have soaked for 20 minutes, gently remove the potato pieces from the water. Pat them dry with a paper towel and weigh it using the balance or scale. Record the weight for each piece of potato.

11. Take note of the stiffness of each piece of potato and write down your observations.

Data and Observations:

Record the following information as you work through the procedure.

Salt Water (A)

  • Mass (g) of potato before soaking: _
  • Mass (g) of potato after soaking: _
  • Difference in mass (g) before and after soaking: _
  • Stiffness of the potato after soaking: _

Distilled Water (B)

  • Mass (g) of potato before soaking: _
  • Mass (g) of potato after soaking: _
  • Difference in mass (g) before and after soaking: _
  • Stiffness of the potato after soaking: _

Post-Lab Questions:

1. What does the stiffness of the potato tell you about the turgor pressure of the cells in the potato? (Answer- The potato in the distilled water will feel stiffer as the cells in the potato will absorb more water through osmosis. The stiffer the potato feels, the more turgor pressure the cells have.)

2. What effect did the salt have on the turgor pressure of the potato? (Answer- The salt water surrounding the potato has a higher concentration of solute. This means that the potato's cells will expel water through osmosis, making the cells shrivel up and lose turgor pressure.)

3. Did the salt water or distilled water cause greater turgor pressure in the potato? (Answer- The distilled water caused greater turgor pressure.)

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