Vascular Tissue in Plants: Function & Structure

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  • 0:00 Who's Got a Vascular System?
  • 0:55 What Does Vascular Tissue Do?
  • 2:15 Where Does It Come From?
  • 2:40 Why Is It Important?
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Szymanski

Jen has taught biology and related fields to students from Kindergarten to University. She has a Master's Degree in Physiology.

Learn about plants' circulatory system in this lesson. At the end, you should be able to briefly explain the major differences between xylem and phloem, understand what they do, and describe how they can be used to identify different kinds of plants.

Who's Got a Vascular System?

The human body requires a circulatory system for balance and survival - and so do plant bodies. But while we're usually pretty familiar with our own arteries and veins, we tend to tune out when it comes to plant vessels.

A vascular system is what distributes water and nutrients to different parts of a plant. Vascular systems are made up of xylem and phloem, or vascular tissue, which we'll get into soon. Not all plants have vascular tissue - algae don't need it, since they're immersed in their source of nutrition and hydration. Mosses don't have vascular tissue, either. Water and other materials move throughout these plants by diffusion. This is a major reason they don't grow to be very tall.

'Higher' plants, the gymnosperms and angiosperms, do have vascular tissue. Gymnosperms are non-flowering plants like ferns, fir trees, and conifers, and angiosperms are flowering plants.

What Does Vascular Tissue Do?

The main difference between xylem and phloem is that xylem transports water, and phloem transports food. Here's a trick to help you remember: phloem carries food because they both start with an 'f' sound!

Xylem conducts water from the roots, through the shoots, and out of the plant. Most xylem cells are dead cells that form a hollow cylinder, like a sort of pipe, that travels through the entire plant root to leaf. Water escapes plants through leaves via transpiration, the process of water loss by evaporation. Xylem also functions by transporting dissolved minerals, and, because the cells have thick cell walls, provides some means of support for the plant.

Phloem primarily conducts sucrose made in the leaves to the rest of the plant. It also carries molecules necessary for growth and defense. Unlike xylem, which conducts water up, phloem's contents, or 'sap,' move as needed to different parts of the plant. For example, phloem might move sucrose from the leaves to the roots for storage during the summer and then back up to the leaves in the spring to be used as energy for budding. Unlike xylem cells, phloem cells are alive. Often xylem and phloem grow next to one another in a structure called a vascular bundle.

Where Does It Come From?

Vascular tissue is found in all of a plant's vegetative organs - that is, the roots, stems, and leaves. Xylem and phloem start out as a special type of tissue called cambium. You can think of cambium tissue cells as similar to stem cells - when they divide, they have the ability to become different kinds of tissue. Vascular tissue cells come from vascular cambium, which are cells that can become either xylem or phloem.

Why Is It Important?

Just as your circulatory system functions to move life-giving molecules to all parts of your body, so xylem and phloem do for plants. The arrangement of vascular tissue in plants also gives clues to how the plant lives and grows in its environment and can even be used to differentiate between different angiosperm types, called monocots and dicots:

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