Seedless Vascular Plants

Vascular Tissue: Xylem and Phloem

The first plant fossils that show the presence of vascular tissue date to the Silurian period, about 430 million years ago. The simplest arrangement of conductive cells shows a pattern of xylem at the center surrounded by phloem. Xylem is the tissue responsible for the storage and long-distance transport of water and nutrients, as well as the transfer of water-soluble growth factors from the organs of synthesis to the target organs. The tissue consists of conducting cells, known as tracheids, and supportive filler tissue, called parenchyma. Xylem conductive cells incorporate the compound lignin into their walls, and are thus described as lignified. Lignin itself is a complex polymer: It is impermeable to water and confers mechanical strength on vascular tissue. With their rigid cell walls, the xylem cells provide support to the plant and allow it to achieve impressive heights. Tall plants have a selective advantage by being able to reach unfiltered sunlight and disperse their spores or seeds away from the parent plant, thus expanding the species’ range. By growing higher than other plants, tall trees cast their shadows on shorter plants and thereby outcompete them for water and precious nutrients in the soil.

Phloem is the second type of vascular tissue; it transports sugars, proteins, and other solutes throughout the plant. Phloem cells are divided into sieve elements (conducting cells) and cells that support the sieve elements. Together, xylem and phloem tissues form the vascular system of plants (Figure).

Vascular bundles in celery. This cross section of a celery stalk shows a number of vascular bundles. The xylem is on the inner part of each bundle. (credit: fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image modified from source.)
2 of 10