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Understanding Plant Cell Components

Refresh your memory about plant organelles, including chloroplasts, the nucleus, the mitochondrion and more.

| Summer, 2017

Plant cells are made up of many parts; however, many of us haven’t taken the time to review these specialized organelles since we were in school. Here’s a short refresher for gardeners.

plant cell components
Adobe stock/GraphicsRF

Chloroplast: Chloroplasts’ main job is to conduct photosynthesis; however, they also carry out a number of other functions, including making fatty acids and amino acids, and aiding in plants’ immune responses. Chloroplasts move around within plant cells quite a bit based on the available light; in low-light conditions they may spread out in a sheet to maximize the surface area. In intense light, they sometimes appear to seek shelter by aligning in vertical columns along the plants’ cell wall.

Green parts of vascular plants contain chloroplasts, and the chlorophyll in them is what makes the plant green in the first place. Chloroplasts contain their own DNA, are inherited from one parent, and they reproduce within their parent cells, much like the Cyanobacteria they likely descended from. Gymnosperms, such as pine trees, mostly pass on chloroplasts paternally, while flowering plants often inherit chloroplast maternally.



Endoplasmic reticulum (ER): This system contains a series of flattened sacs that are particularly important in the modification and transport of proteins and lipids. There is a smooth ER and a rough ER. The rough ER is primarily involved with the production of proteins that will be exported from the cell to help build the plant. The smooth ER is involved with the creation, secretion, and storage of lipids, the creation of new membranes, and the metabolism of carbohydrates. The ER also helps regulate large quantities of calcium, which can become toxic if too much is accumulated.

Nucleus: The nucleus stores the plant’s DNA, which controls everything in the plant from the color of its petals to the number of stamens. The nucleus is enclosed by two membranes and some small openings- called nuclear pores – which only let in certain, pre-approved things. A defined nucleus is an advanced feature in a cell and is found in eukaryotic cells but not prokaryotic cells.



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