Xylem & Phloem Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Debra Patuto

Debra has taught at elementary levels and has an M.ed with certification in elementary education and special education

This lesson will teach you about the differences between phloem and xylem within plants and trees. Each has an equally important and very special job to do. Let's take a closer look.

What Are Xylem and Phloem?

When your body is thirsty and hungry, what do you do? You drink and eat! All plants need to be able to drink and eat, too. Plants and trees might not have mouths, but they do have special ways that they can get their nutrients. Xylem and phloem are the names for the special pipe-like system that allows water and food to get delivered to all parts of a plant.

This cross section of celery shows the pipe-like system that can be found in plants. Notice the dark green and light green dots. Those are the tubes.
cross section of celery plant

So how does this system work? The parts of the plants above the ground--the stem or trunk, leaves and branches--absorb the sunlight during a process called photosynthesis (when the plant turns light into food in the form of sugar). Underground, the root system absorbs water and nutrients from the soil. The xylem and phloem help the above-ground parts work with the underground parts to digest the food and liquids.

Phloem

Phloem carries the sugar that's made during photosynthesis from the leaves to storage areas--seeds and fruits. It also carries sugar to parts of the plants that are growing, such as the roots. Phloem can flow up and down to carry the food throughout the plant.

So where is phloem located? You can find this tissue, which is made of tube-like structures, close to the outside part of a stem or trunk (but not exposed to the outside elements). In a tree, for example, it's usually just under the outside coat of bark. In plants, phloem tends to be close to the bottom of the leaves, which is why you often find insects feeding on the underside of leaves.

This picture shows how a maple tree is tapped. The spouts are drilled right into the phloem of the tree, and the buckets underneath collect the sugar (sap).
maple tree tapping

In maple trees, depending on where you live and weather conditions, sugars will begin to flow through the phloem when the temperatures rise and drop from daytime to nighttime. This creates pressure within the tree and gets the sugars flowing. It's common for people to tap maple trees--drill holes into the phloem--to collect the sugars (which come in the form of sap) from the tree. The sugars are then used to make the maple syrup you put on your pancakes!

Xylem

Xylem, also called sapwood, carries water from the roots to all parts of the tree or plant. The flow of water can only travel in an upward motion.

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