What Does the Cell Membrane Do in a Plant Cell?

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  • 0:01 Cell Membrane
  • 0:38 Functions
  • 1:08 Structural Function
  • 2:00 Regulation
  • 3:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Dominic Corsini
Expert Contributor
Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

Plant cells are surrounded by a cell membrane and a cell wall. But why have a membrane if you have a wall? This lesson addresses that question through an investigation into plant cell membrane function.

Cell Membrane

As you may know, all living things are made from cells. How do these cells control what gets into them? Or out of them? Fortunately, each of these cells - be they plant, animal, fungus, or bacteria - contain a cell membrane. The cell membrane is the semi-permeable covering that surrounds all cells. To say something is semi-permeable means that it allows certain substances to pass through them, while prohibiting the passage of others. This is how the cells of maple trees secrete the sugars we use for making maple syrup.


What do plant cell membranes actually do? Why do they matter? Well, earlier we said that cell membranes are semi-permeable and that they surround the cell. Cell membranes are built of a phospholipid bi-layer that is embedded with various proteins. Phospholipids are essentially fats. This structure lends itself to two primary membrane functions: structure and passage.

Structural Function

First, in conjunction with the cell wall, the plant cell membrane forms the outside boundary of the cell. While the wall provides structural support, the membrane acts as an inner lining capable of holding cytoplasm inside. Cytoplasm is the gel-like fluid that fills the cell. In addition, the plant cell membrane is somewhat flexible. This is important because it allows the cell to expand and contract under different environmental conditions. For example, under low water conditions plants wilt, but still survive. This is because the cell membrane can flex inward and essentially shrivel up to some extent. This characteristic allows the plant cell to survive in less than optimal environmental situations.


The second function of the plant cell membrane is to control entry into and exit from the cell. Plant cells can move water across their membranes through a process called osmosis. Cells also regulate the entrance or release of sugars, hormones, waste products, and other molecules - such as proteins - through their membranes.

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Additional Activities

Crossword Puzzle on the Role of the Cell Membrane in a Plant Cell


This activity is related to the lesson on the vital role of the cell membrane in a plant cell. For this activity, complete the crossword by filling in a word that fits each of the given clues. To do this, you can just right click the crossword to save the image and print it. With a pencil and an eraser, neatly write your answers in the boxes provided.


3. The term which refers to the movement of water through a plasma membrane from a region of low concentration to that of high concentration.

5. The by-product of photosynthesis which is regulated by the plant cell membrane.

6. The cell wall provides _____ support in a plant cell.

7. A thick gel-solution that fills each cell and is enclosed by the cell membrane.


1. It is made up of fat and plays a key role in the structure and passage of substances in the cell.

2. A pitcher plant features a deep cavity filled with _____ or digestive liquid secreted through the plant cell membrane.

4. The cell membrane is a thin semi-permeable membrane which is composed primarily of phospholipids and _____.

7. This is the smallest unit of life and is collectively known to be the basic building blocks of all living things.

Answer Key

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