Plant growth

Plant growth

An irreversible increase in the size of the plant. As plants, like other organisms, are made up of cells, growth involves an increase in cell numbers by cell division and an increase in cell size. Cell division itself is not growth, as each new cell is exactly half the size of the cell from which it was formed. Only when it grows to the same size as its progenitor has growth been realized. Nonetheless, as each cell has a maximum size, cell division is considered as providing the potential for growth. See Cell (biology)

While growth in plants consists of an increase in both cell number and cell size, animal growth is almost wholly the result of an increase in cell numbers. Another important difference in growth between plants and animals is that animals are determinate in growth and reach a final size before they are mature and start to reproduce. Plants have indeterminate growth and, as long as they live, continue to add new organs and tissues. In a plant new cells are produced all the time, and some parts such as leaves and flowers may die, while the main body of the plant persists and continues to grow. The basic processes of cell division are similar in plants and animals, though the presence of a cell wall and vacuole in plant cells means that there are certain important differences. This is particularly true in plant cell enlargement, as plant cells, being restrained in size by a cellulose cell wall, cannot grow without an increase in the wall. Plant cell growth is thus largely a property of the cell wall. See Cell walls (plant)

Sites of cell division

Cell division in plants takes place in discrete zones called meristems. The stem and root apical meristems produce all the primary (or initial) tissues of the stem and root. The cylindrical vascular cambium produces more conducting cells at the time when secondary thickening (the acquisition of a woody nature) begins. The vascular cambium is a sheet of elongated cells which divide to produce xylem or water-conducting cells on the inside, and phloem or sugar-conducting cells on the outside. Unlike the apical meristems whose cell division eventually leads to an increase in length of the stem and root, divisions of the vascular cambium occur when that part of the plant has reached a fixed length, and lead only to an increase in girth, not in length. The final meristematic zone, the cork cambium, is another cylindrical sheet of cells on the outer edge of older stems and roots of woody plants. It produces new outer cells only, and these cells differentiate into the corky layers of the bark so that new protective layers are produced as the tree increases in circumference. See Apical meristem, Bud, Lateral meristem, Periderm, Root (botany), Stem


Plant growth is affected by internal and external factors. The internal controls are all the product of the genetic instructions carried in the plant. These influence the extent and timing of growth and are mediated by signals of various types transmitted within the cell, between cells, or all around the plant. Intercellular communication in plants may take place via hormones (or chemical messengers) or by other forms of communication not well understood. There are several hormones (or groups of hormones), each of which may be produced in a different location, that have a different target tissue and act in a different manner. See Plant hormones

The external environments of the root and shoot place constraints on the extent to which the internal controls can permit the plant to grow and develop. Prime among these are the water and nutrient supplies available in the soil. Because cell expansion is controlled by cell turgor, which depends on water, any deficit in the water supply of the plant reduces cell turgor and limits cell elongation, resulting in a smaller plant. See Plant-water relations

Mineral nutrients are needed for the biochemical processes of the plant. When these are in insufficient supply, growth will be less vigorous, or in extreme cases it will cease altogether. See Plant mineral nutrition

An optimal temperature is needed for plant growth. The actual temperature range depends on the species. In general, metabolic reactions and growth increase with temperature, though high temperature becomes damaging. Most plants grow slowly at low temperatures, 32–50°F (0–10°C), and some tropical plants are damaged or even killed at low but above-freezing temperatures.

Light is important in the control of plant growth. It drives the process of photosynthesis which produces the carbohydrates that are needed to osmotically retain water in the cell for growth. See Photosynthesis

Fruits and seeds

Fruits and seeds are rich sources of hormones. Initial hormone production starts upon pollination and is further promoted by ovule fertilization. These hormones promote the growth of both seed and fruit tissue. Fruits grow initially by cell division, then by cell enlargement, and finally sometimes by an increase in air spaces.

The growth of a seed starts at fertilization. A small undifferentiated cell mass is produced from the single-celled zygote. This proceeds to form a small embryo consisting of a stem tip bearing two or more leaf primordia at one end and a root primordium at the other. Either the endosperm or the cotyledons enlarge as a food store. See Fruit, Seed


At a certain time a vegetative plant ceases producing leaves and instead produces flowers. This often occurs at a particular season of the year. The determining factor for this event is day length (or photoperiod). Different species of plants respond to different photoperiods. See Flower, Photoperiodism

The light signal for flowering is received by the leaves, but it is the stem apex that responds. Exposing even a single leaf to the correct photoperiod can induce flowering. Clearly, then, a signal must travel from the leaf to the apex. Grafting a plant that has been photoinduced to flower to one not so induced can cause the noninduced plant to flower. It has been proposed that a flower-inducing hormone travels from the leaf to the stem apex and there induces changes in the development of the cells such that the floral morphology results.


At certain stages of the life cycle, most perennial plants cease growth and become dormant. Plants may cease growth at any time if the environmental conditions are unfavorable. When dormant, however, a plant will not grow even if the conditions are favorable. See Dormancy

Leaf abscission

As a perennial plant grows, new leaves are continuously or seasonally produced. At the same time the older leaves are shed because newer leaves are metabolically more efficient in the production of photosynthates. A total shedding of tender leaves may enable the plant to withstand a cold period or drought. In temperate deciduous trees, leaf abscission is brought about by declining photoperiods and temperatures. See Abscission, Plant morphogenesis

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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