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Epidermal Cells & Tissues in Plants

Joanna Tatomir, Elizabeth Friedl
  • Author
    Joanna Tatomir

    Joanna holds a PhD in Biology from the University of Michigan and is currently working towards a degree in Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. She has taught a combination of ESL and STEM courses to secondary and university students.

  • Instructor
    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.

Learn about the epidermis in plants. Discover the function of epidermal cells in plants and understand the structure of the epidermal tissue in plants. Updated: 10/31/2021

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Epidermis in Plants

Vascular plants possess structural features enabling them to produce their own nutrients despite being immobile. While roots facilitate water and mineral absorption, stems and leaves enable plants to utilize photosynthesis for the production of energy and organic molecules. In animals, the epidermis separates the internal environment of the organism from the external environment. In much the same manner, the epidermis in plants serves as a barrier between the internal and external environments.

As the tissue representing the outermost cell layer of the plant body, the epidermis consists of tightly packed cells that provide both strength and flexibility to the plant as it responds to sunlight, water intake, and growth. Epidermal cells in plants play an important role in both photosynthesis and the overall health of the plant. Epidermal tissue in plants is comprised of three main cell types: pavement cells, guard cells, and their subsidiary cells. These three cell types, along with the function of the epidermis, will be further discussed in detail as part of this lesson.

Cuticle

The cuticle represents the first layer of the epidermis that interacts with the environment. Epidermal cells produce the cuticle as a waxy secretion that contains cutin, a polymer contributing to the lipophilic ("fat loving" or hydrophobic) characteristic of the cuticle. Due to this lipophilic quality, the cuticle is able to prevent water loss in plants.

Much like the skin of an animal, the cuticle constitutes the first layer of defense against a variety of pathogens and mechanical stressors, such as insect predation, direct sunlight, and fungal infestation. The cuticle also helps to regulate which substances can enter and exit the plant, as well as change its composition in response to environmental conditions. For example, when a plant detects a potential fungal infection, the cuticle can produce special substances like terpenoids and flavonoids with antifungal properties.


Cuticle overlying the upper epidermis.

Epidermis in plants


Just as hormones direct many of the activities in animals, such as growth and reproduction, hormones also play an important role in the secretion of the cuticle, as well as in the types of cells comprising the plant epidermis.

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  • 0:04 What is a Plant Epidermis?
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Structure of Epidermis in Plants

The actual cells of the epidermis lie beneath the cuticle. The epidermis consists of two different cellular layers: the upper epidermis and the lower epidermis. The upper epidermis contains the cuticle, as well as cells lacking both stomata and chloroplasts. Stomata represent the tiny pore-like openings in leaves that facilitate gas exchange. Chloroplasts are plant organelles where photosynthesis takes place. By contrast, the lower epidermis is characterized by the presence of numerous stomata that control the absorption and release of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water.


Upper and lower epidermis.

Epidermis in plants


The epidermis contains three types of cells:

  • Pavement cells
  • Guard cells
  • Subsidiary cells

Pavement cells represent the most common cells found in the epidermis. The basic function of the pavement cell is to protect the underlying plant tissue. As such, they possess few stomata and generally lack the ability to facilitate the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. These cells tend to be non-differentiated and contribute to the overall strength of the epidermal tissue.

Guard cells represent pairs of specialized cells that surround each stomata. One of the main functions of the guard cell is to prevent water loss via the stomata. The second function is to control the opening and closure of the stomata to enable the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. As a result, these bean-shaped cells are crucial for photosynthesis to occur in plants.


Guard cells and stomata.

Epidermis in Plants


Aside from the guard cells, subsidiary cells help to provide additional structure to the plant stomata. Subsidiary cells help the guard cell to control the stomata by contributing to their movement. Subsidiary cells are also capable of storing water and soluble ions.

Ground and Vascular Tissue System

While the epidermis is responsible for maintaining the overall structure of the plant, the ground and vascular tissue systems enable the plant to carry out metabolism and the transport of nutrients throughout the plant. The ground tissue and vascular system are sandwiched between the upper and lower epidermis.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a plant's epidermal cell?

Plant epidermal cells consist of three main types: pavement cells, guard cells, and subsidiary cells. Pavement cells provide support and strength to the epidermis, while the guard cells control when the stomata open and close, Subsidiary cells provide support to both the guard cells and the stomata.

What is the function of the epidermis?

The main function of the epidermis is to protect the plant from the external environment. Other functions of the epidermis are to provide coloration and structures to attract pollinators, protect against water loss, and protect from fungal and bacterial pathogens.

What is the main function of the epidermal plant tissue?

The main function of the epidermis is to protect plant tissues from the external environment. The epidermis also prevents water loss and protects the plant from predation.

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