water water water


Figure 9-4 A. A turgid cell. Water has entered the cell by osmosis, and turgor pressure is pushing the cell contents against the cell walls. B. Water has left the cell, and turgor pressure has dropped, leaving the cell flaccid.

Although the previous simple definition of osmosis serves our purposes, plant physiologists prefer to define and discuss osmosis more precisely in terms of potentials. It is possible to prevent osmosis by applying pressure. Just enough pressure to prevent fluid from moving as a result of osmosis is referred to as the osmotic potential of the solution. In other words, osmotic potential is the pressure required to prevent osmosis.

Water enters a cell by osmosis until the osmotic potential is balanced by the resistance to expansion of the cell wall. Water gained by osmosis may keep a cell firm, or turgid, and the turgor pressure that develops against the walls as a result of water entering the vacuole of the cell is called pressure potential.

The release of turgor pressure can be heard each time you bite into a crisp celery stick or the leaf of a young head of lettuce. When we soak carrot sticks, celery, or lettuce in pure water to make them crisp, we are merely assisting the plant in bringing about an increase in the turgor of the cells (Fig. 9.4).

The water potential of a plant cell is essentially its osmotic potential and pressure potential combined. If we have two adjacent cells of different water potentials, water will move from the cell having the higher water potential to the cell having the lower water potential.

Osmosis is the primary means by which water enters plants from their surrounding environment. In land plants, water from the soil enters the cell walls and intercellular spaces of the epidermis and the root hairs and travels along the walls until it reaches the endodermis. Here it crosses the differentially permeable membranes and cytoplasm of the endodermal cells on its way to the xylem. Water flows from the xylem to the leaves, evaporates within the leaf air spaces, and diffuses out (transpires) through the stomata into the atmosphere. The movement of water takes place because there is a water potential gradient from relatively high soil water potential to successively lower water potentials in roots, stems, leaves, and the atmosphere.


If you place turgid carrot and celery sticks in a 10% solution of salt in water, they soon lose their rigidity and become limp enough to curl around your finger. The water potential inside the carrot cells is greater than the water potential outside, and so diffusion of water out of the cells into the salt solution takes place. If you were to examine such cells with a microscope, you would see that the vacuoles, which are largely water, had disappeared and that the cytoplasm was clumped in the middle of the cell, having shrunken away from the walls. Such cells are said to be plasmolyzed. This loss of water through osmosis, which is accompanied by the shrinkage of protoplasm away from the cell wall, is called plasmolysis (Fig. 9.5). If plasmolyzed cells are placed in fresh water before permanent damage is done, water reenters the cell by osmosis, and the cells become turgid once more.


Osmosis is not the only force involved in the absorption of water by plants. Colloidal materials (i.e., materials that contain a permanent suspension of fine particles) and large molecules, such as cellulose and starch, usually develop electrical charges when they are wet. The charged colloids and molecules attract water molecules, which adhere to the internal surfaces of the materials. Because water molecules are polar, they can become both highly adhesive to large organic molecules such as cellulose and cohesive with one another. As discussed in Chapter 2, polar molecules have slightly different electrical charges at each end due to their asymmetry. This process, known as imbibition, results in the swelling of tissues, whether they are alive or dead, often to several times their original volume. Imbibition is the initial step in the germination of seeds (Fig. 9.6).

The physical forces developed during germination can be tremendous, even to the point of causing a seed to split a rock weighing several tons (Fig. 9.7). It has been found, for

158 Chapter 9

158 Chapter 9

Phylum Rhodophyta Movement

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