Plant Cell – Diagram, Organelles, and Characteristics

Labeled Plant Cell Diagram
Distinguishing characteristics of a plant cell are its cell wall, chloroplasts, and large vacuole.

A plant cell is the basic building block of a plant. Plant cells, like all eukaryotic cells, contain a nucleus and other organelles, each with its distinct functions. However, plant cells also possess unique components that differentiate them from animal, fungal, and bacterial cells.

Plant Cell Characteristics

Plant cells are eukaryotic. In other words, each cell has a true nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. However, plant cells have characteristics that distinguish them from other eukaryotic cells:

Cell Wall: Unlike animal cells, plant cells have a rigid cell wall outside the plasma membrane. This cell wall is primarily composed of cellulose, a complex carbohydrate, that provides structural support, protection and helps maintain the cell’s shape. A fungal cell has a cell wall, but it has a different chemical composition.

Large Central Vacuole: Plant cells have a large central vacuole that stores water, nutrients, and waste products. The central vacuole can occupy up to 90% of the cell’s volume, maintaining turgor pressure that helps the plant stand upright.

Plastids: These are unique organelles found in plant cells. A chloroplasts is a type of plastid that performs photosynthesis, the process that allows plants to convert sunlight into energy.

Autotrophic: Unlike animal or fungal cells, which are heterotrophic (relying on consuming food for energy), plant cells are autotrophic. They produce their own food through photosynthesis, using light energy, carbon dioxide, and water.

Organelles in a Plant Cell and Their Functions

Plant cells comprise several organelles, each with unique functions vital to the cell’s operation:

  1. Cell Wall: The cell wall is a rigid layer that provides support, protection, and shape to the cell. It consists mainly of cellulose.
  2. Plasma Membrane: This is a semi-permeable membrane that controls the movement of substances in and out of the cell.
  3. Nucleus: The nucleus is the control center of the cell, containing DNA that directs all cell activities. The nuclear membrane is a double-membrane structure with nuclear pores that encloses the nucleus and regulates transport and communication with the cytoplasm.
  4. Mitochondria: Often referred to as the powerhouse of the cell, mitochondria produce ATP through a process called cellular respiration.
  5. Chloroplasts: These are the sites of photosynthesis, where sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water change into glucose and oxygen. Chloroplasts contain a green pigment called chlorophyll, which captures light energy.
  6. Peroxisomes: Plant peroxisomes perform a key role in photorespiration and produce plant hormones.
  7. Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER): ER is a network of membranous tubules and sacs where lipid synthesis and protein folding occur. The rough ER, studded with ribosomes, synthesizes proteins, while the smooth ER performs lipid synthesis.
  8. Golgi Apparatus: The Golgi apparatus modifies, sorts, and packages proteins and lipids for transport to their final destinations within or outside the cell.
  9. Ribosomes: These are the sites of protein synthesis. They are either free in the cytoplasm or bound to the ER.
  10. Vacuoles: Plant cells contain a large central vacuole that stores water and helps maintain turgor pressure, supporting the cell’s structure. Druse and raphite crystals occur in some plant vacuoles. These crystals of calcium oxalate and calcium carbonates deter herbivores and also store minerals for the cell.
  11. Cytoskeleton: Just like in animal cells, plant cells also contain a cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton is a network of protein fibers in the cytoplasm that provides structural support and plays a key role in cell division and the transport of materials within the cell.
  12. Plasmodesmata: These are small tubes that connect plant cells to each other, allowing direct communication and transport of substances between them. This is a unique feature of plant cells not found in animal cells.

A Closer Look at Plastids

While most people know plants cells contain chloroplasts, they may not realize there are other types of plastids in cells. Plastids are a group of plant cell organelles that perform a variety of essential functions. Like mitochondria, plastids have a double-membrane envelope and their own DNA and ribosomes.

Here are some key plastids:

  1. Chloroplasts: Chloroplasts contain chlorophyll and perform photosynthesis.
  2. Chromoplasts: These plastids synthesize and sore pigments other than chlorophyll. They give fruits, flowers, and aging leaves their yellow, orange, and red colors. These pigments, such as carotenoids and xanthophylls, play a crucial role in attracting pollinators and seed dispersers.
  3. Leucoplasts: These are generally colorless plastids and that synthesize and store macromolecules, such as starches, lipids, and proteins. There are different types of leucoplasts:
    • Amyloplasts: These specialize in the synthesis and storage of starch granules. They are particularly abundant in storage tissues such as potato tubers. Amyloplasts also play a role in gravity sensing (gravitropism) in roots and shoots.
    • Elaioplasts: Elaioplasts synthesizeand store lipids. They occur in seeds, which store lipids for germination.
    • Proteinoplasts or Aleuroplasts: These plastids specialize in protein storage. They are common in seeds.
  4. Gerontoplasts: These plastids develop from chloroplasts during the aging process of plant tissues. They break down chlorophyll and other cellular components during senescence, the final stage of leaf development before leaf fall.

Each type of plastid has the ability to convert into other types depending on the cell’s needs, a phenomenon known as plastid differentiation. For instance, proplastids (undifferentiated plastids) develop into chloroplasts in the presence of light or amyloplasts in the dark.

Key Differences Between Plant and Animal Cells

While plant and animal cells share many similarities as eukaryotes, they also exhibit notable differences:

Cell Wall: Unlike plant cells, animal cells do not have a cell wall. This absence gives animal cells a flexible shape, allowing them to form structures such as neurons and muscle cells.

Vacuoles: Animal cells contain smaller vacuoles and often more than one per cell. In contrast, plant cells typically have a single, large central vacuole.

Centrosomes: Animal cells have centrosomes that help in cell division. Each centrosome contains a pair of centrioles, which are absent in most plant cells.

Plastids: Plant cells contain plastids, such as chloroplasts for photosynthesis, which are absent in animal cells.

Lysosomes: These are more commonly found and active in animal cells, playing a major role in digestion and waste removal. Vacuoles perform lysosome-like functions in plants.

Plant Cells vs Bacterial Cells

While plant cells are eukaryotic, bacterial cells are prokaryotic. This leads to several key differences between the cell types:

  1. Nucleus: Plant cells have a well-defined nucleus that houses their DNA. In contrast, bacterial cells do not contain a nucleus. Instead, their DNA is in a region called the nucleoid.
  2. Size: Plant cells are generally much larger than bacterial cells. A typical plant cell is around 10 to 100 micrometers in diameter, while a bacterial cell is usually between 0.5 and 5 micrometers.
  3. Cell Wall: Both plant and bacterial cells have cell walls, but their chemical composition is different. Plant cell walls contain cellulose, while bacterial cell walls use peptidoglycan.
  4. Organelles: Plant cells contain membrane-bound organelles like mitochondria, chloroplasts, and the endoplasmic reticulum. Bacteria lack these organelles.
  5. Reproduction: Plant cells reproduce primarily through mitosis, while bacteria mainly reproduce through binary fission, a simpler form of asexual reproduction.

Plant Cell vs Fungal Cell

While both plant and fungal cells are eukaryotic, there are several key differences between them:

  1. Cell Wall: The cell walls of plant cells contain cellulose, while fungal cell walls mainly consist of chitin.
  2. Nutrition: Plant cells are autotrophic and produce their own food via photosynthesis. Fungal cells, on the other hand, are heterotrophic and obtain their nutrients through absorption. They secrete enzymes that break down complex substances in their environment into simpler compounds that they can absorb.
  3. Vacuoles: Both plant and fungal cells contain vacuoles, but plant cells typically have a single large central vacuole, while fungal cells have several smaller vacuoles.
  4. Growth: Plant cells grow by dividing and expanding in all directions. Fungal cells grow apically, meaning they extend at their tips.
  5. Plastids: Plant cells contain plastids such as chloroplasts, which are absent in fungal cells.

Types of Plant Cells

There are different types of plant cells, each with specific structures and functions. These cells further organize into tissues that perform coordinated functions.

  1. Parenchyma Cells: These are the most common type of plant cell. They are involved in many functions such as photosynthesis, storage, and tissue repair. Parenchyma cells typically have a thin cell wall and large central vacuole.
  2. Collenchyma Cells: These cells provide support for the plant, particularly in regions of new growth. They have irregularly thick cell walls and are often found under the epidermis, the outermost layer of the plant.
  3. Sclerenchyma Cells: These cells also provide support to the plant. They are characterized by their thick, lignified cell walls. There are two types of sclerenchyma cells: fibres, which are long and slender and provide tensile strength; and sclereids, which are shorter and provide compressive strength.
  4. Xylem Cells: These cells are involved in the transport of water and minerals from the roots to the rest of the plant. The two primary types of xylem cells are tracheids and vessel elements, both of which are dead at maturity and serve primarily as conduits.
  5. Phloem Cells: Phloem cells transport sugars and other nutrients produced by photosynthesis from the leaves to the rest of the plant. Sieve tube elements and companion cells are the main cell types in phloem tissue.

Types of Plant Tissues

There are three main types of differentiated plant tissue, plus there is undifferentiated tissue:

  1. Dermal Tissue: This is the outermost layer of the plant (the “skin”), which serves as a protective layer. It includes epidermal cells, guard cells (which regulate the opening and closing of stomata for gas exchange), and in some cases, specialized cells like trichomes (hair-like structures that can have various functions like defense or water retention).
  2. Vascular Tissue: This tissue type transports water, nutrients, and sugars. It includes xylem (for water and mineral transport) and phloem (for sugar and nutrient transport).
  3. Ground Tissue: This tissue type makes up the bulk of the plant body and performs functions such as photosynthesis, storage, and support. It includes parenchyma, collenchyma, and sclerenchyma cells. There are three categories of ground tissue: pith (innermost), cortex (between pith and vascular tissue), and pericycle (outermost layer of the central vascular cylinder).
  4. Meristematic Tissue: This is the tissue in plants that consists of undifferentiated cells capable of division and growth. Meristematic tissue occurs in the root and shoot tips (apical meristem) and the vascular and cork cambium (lateral meristem).

Understanding these different cell types and tissues is crucial for studying plant growth, development, and function.


  • Keegstra, K. (2010). “Plant cell walls”. Plant Physiology. 154 (2): 483–486. doi:10.1104/pp.110.161240
  • Lew, Kristi; Fitzpatrick, Brad (2021). Plant Cells (3rd ed.). Infobase Holdings, Inc. ISBN 978-1-64693-728-8.
  • Raven, J.A. (1987). “The role of vacuoles”. New Phytologist. 106 (3): 357–422. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.1987.tb00149.x
  • Raven, P.H.; Evert, R.F.; Eichhorm, S.E. (1999). Biology of Plants (6th ed.). New York: W.H. Freeman. ISBN 9780716762843.