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What Are Plant Cells?

A plant cell is the basic unit of life that makes up the tissues and organs of all plants. Plant cells are eukaryotic cells, meaning that they have a nucleus containing genetic material in the form of DNA.

The nucleus and other components of the cell, called organelles, are surrounded by a flexible cell membrane that acts as a protective barrier. In addition to the cell membrane, plant cells also have a rigid cell wall made of cellulose that provides extra support and protection. Plant cells also contain chloroplasts, which allow plants to make energy through photosynthesis.

The Different Parts of Plant Cells

Biologists split plant cells into different parts called organelles, meaning "little organs." While plant cells and animal cells share a lot of the same organelles, plant cells have a few that animal cells don't. Here is a list of the main organelles in plant cells:

  • Cell wall: A rigid layer made of cellulose that surrounds the cell membrane and provides extra support and protection.
  • Cell membrane: The outer boundary of the cell, made up of a thin layer of lipids (fats) and proteins. The cell membrane controls what enters and leaves the cell.
  • Cytoskeleton: A network of protein fibers that provides structural support and helps the cell maintain its shape.
  • Endoplasmic reticulum: A network of membranes that helps transport materials around the cell.
  • Golgi apparatus: A group of flattened sacs that modify, sort, and package proteins and lipids for transport to other parts of the cell or for removal from the cell.
  • Lysosomes: Small organelles that contain enzymes that break down and recycle cellular waste products.
  • Mitochondria: The "powerhouses" of the cell, responsible for converting nutrients into energy that the cell can use.
  • Nucleus: The control center of the cell, containing the cell's DNA and directing the cell's activities.
  • Ribosomes: Small structures in the cytoplasm that are responsible for making proteins.
  • Vacuole: A large storage sac that can hold water, nutrients, or waste products. Plant cells often have a large central vacuole.
  • Chloroplasts: Organelles that contain chlorophyll and are responsible for photosynthesis.

Did you know?

  • Onions make us cry when their cells break.

    Onion cells contain a chemical that becomes an irritating gas when it mixes with air. When we cut into an onion, we're actually breaking some of its cells and releasing that chemical. When the gas reaches our eyes, it makes them sting and our body produces tears to wash it away. The more cells we break when cutting an onion, the more that irritating chemical is released!

  • A plant cell's vacuoles, or storage sacs, are what help plants stand upright.

    Plant cells contain a large "vacuole," or storage sac, that takes up most of the cell. This vacuole stores water and nutrients and creates something called "turgor pressure." Turgor pressure is when the insides of the cell push against the cell wall, helping them keep their shape. It's this pressure that helps plants stand tall, and the reason they droop and wilt when they don't have enough water.

  • Vegetables are crunchy because of the cell walls in plant cells.

    One of the largest differences between plant and animal cells is that plant cells have a unique structure called the cell wall. This is the rigid wall that surrounds the cell, keeping the organelles contained and protected within it. In a plant cell, it’s made of a material called cellulose and shaped like a rectangular box. When we bite into vegetables, our teeth break these microscopic cell walls—mmm crunchy!

  • Cells got their name because of the way plant cells look through a microscope.

    The word “cell” was first used by the English philosopher Robert Hooke in 1665, when he observed dead cork (the type of oak tree that wine corks are made from) tissue under a microscope. He named what he saw cells because they reminded him of the rooms where monks lived, which were also called cells.