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Biology LibreTexts

30.2C: Primary and Secondary Growth in Stems

  • Page ID
    13747
  • Plants undergo primary growth to increase length and secondary growth to increase thickness.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Distinguish between primary and secondary growth in stems

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • Indeterminate growth continues throughout a plant’s life, while determinate growth stops when a plant element (such as a leaf) reaches a particular size.
    • Primary growth of stems is a result of rapidly-dividing cells in the apical meristems at the shoot tips.
    • Apical dominance reduces the growth along the sides of branches and stems, giving the tree a conical shape.
    • The growth of the lateral meristems, which includes the vascular cambium and the cork cambium (in woody plants), increases the thickness of the stem during secondary growth.
    • Cork cells (bark) protect the plant against physical damage and water loss; they contain a waxy substance known as suberin that prevents water from penetrating the tissue.
    • The secondary xylem develops dense wood during the fall and thin wood during the spring, which produces a characteristic ring for each year of growth.

    Key Terms

    • lenticel: small, oval, rounded spots upon the stem or branch of a plant that allow the exchange of gases with the surrounding atmosphere
    • periderm: the outer layer of plant tissue; the outer bark
    • suberin: a waxy material found in bark that can repel water

    Growth in Stems

    Growth in plants occurs as the stems and roots lengthen. Some plants, especially those that are woody, also increase in thickness during their life span. The increase in length of the shoot and the root is referred to as primary growth. It is the result of cell division in the shoot apical meristem. Secondary growth is characterized by an increase in thickness or girth of the plant. It is caused by cell division in the lateral meristem. Herbaceous plants mostly undergo primary growth, with little secondary growth or increase in thickness. Secondary growth, or “wood”, is noticeable in woody plants; it occurs in some dicots, but occurs very rarely in monocots.

    image

    Primary and secondary growth: In woody plants, primary growth is followed by secondary growth, which allows the plant stem to increase in thickness or girth. Secondary vascular tissue is added as the plant grows, as well as a cork layer. The bark of a tree extends from the vascular cambium to the epidermis.

    Some plant parts, such as stems and roots, continue to grow throughout a plant’s life: a phenomenon called indeterminate growth. Other plant parts, such as leaves and flowers, exhibit determinate growth, which ceases when a plant part reaches a particular size.

    Primary Growth

    Most primary growth occurs at the apices, or tips, of stems and roots. Primary growth is a result of rapidly-dividing cells in the apical meristems at the shoot tip and root tip. Subsequent cell elongation also contributes to primary growth. The growth of shoots and roots during primary growth enables plants to continuously seek water (roots) or sunlight (shoots).

    The influence of the apical bud on overall plant growth is known as apical dominance, which diminishes the growth of axillary buds that form along the sides of branches and stems. Most coniferous trees exhibit strong apical dominance, thus producing the typical conical Christmas tree shape. If the apical bud is removed, then the axillary buds will start forming lateral branches. Gardeners make use of this fact when they prune plants by cutting off the tops of branches, thus encouraging the axillary buds to grow out, giving the plant a bushy shape.

    Secondary Growth

    The increase in stem thickness that results from secondary growth is due to the activity of the lateral meristems, which are lacking in herbaceous plants. Lateral meristems include the vascular cambium and, in woody plants, the cork cambium. The vascular cambium is located just outside the primary xylem and to the interior of the primary phloem. The cells of the vascular cambium divide and form secondary xylem ( tracheids and vessel elements) to the inside and secondary phloem (sieve elements and companion cells) to the outside. The thickening of the stem that occurs in secondary growth is due to the formation of secondary phloem and secondary xylem by the vascular cambium, plus the action of cork cambium, which forms the tough outermost layer of the stem. The cells of the secondary xylem contain lignin, which provides hardiness and strength.

    In woody plants, cork cambium is the outermost lateral meristem. It produces cork cells (bark) containing a waxy substance known as suberin that can repel water. The bark protects the plant against physical damage and helps reduce water loss. The cork cambium also produces a layer of cells known as phelloderm, which grows inward from the cambium. The cork cambium, cork cells, and phelloderm are collectively termed the periderm. The periderm substitutes for the epidermis in mature plants. In some plants, the periderm has many openings, known as lenticels, which allow the interior cells to exchange gases with the outside atmosphere. This supplies oxygen to the living- and metabolically-active cells of the cortex, xylem, and phloem.

    image

    Example of lenticels: Lenticels on the bark of this cherry tree enable the woody stem to exchange gases with the surrounding atmosphere.

    Annual Rings

    The activity of the vascular cambium gives rise to annual growth rings. During the spring growing season, cells of the secondary xylem have a large internal diameter; their primary cell walls are not extensively thickened. This is known as early wood, or spring wood. During the fall season, the secondary xylem develops thickened cell walls, forming late wood, or autumn wood, which is denser than early wood. This alternation of early and late wood is due largely to a seasonal decrease in the number of vessel elements and a seasonal increase in the number of tracheids. It results in the formation of an annual ring, which can be seen as a circular ring in the cross section of the stem. An examination of the number of annual rings and their nature (such as their size and cell wall thickness) can reveal the age of the tree and the prevailing climatic conditions during each season.

    image

    Annual growth rings: The rate of wood growth increases in summer and decreases in winter, producing a characteristic ring for each year of growth. Seasonal changes in weather patterns can also affect the growth rate. Note how the rings vary in thickness.