Plant stem

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Stem showing internode and nodes plus leaf petioles Plant nodes c.jpg
Stem showing internode and nodes plus leaf petioles
This above-ground stem of Polygonum has lost its leaves, but is producing adventitious roots from the nodes. Polygonum amphibium (4973671699).jpg
This above-ground stem of Polygonum has lost its leaves, but is producing adventitious roots from the nodes.

A stem is one of two main structural axes of a vascular plant, the other being the root. It supports leaves, flowers and fruits, transports water and dissolved substances between the roots and the shoots in the xylem and phloem, stores nutrients, and produces new living tissue.[ citation needed ]


The stem is normally divided into nodes and internodes:

The term "shoots" is often confused with "stems"; "shoots" generally refers to new fresh plant growth including both stems and other structures like leaves or flowers. In most plants stems are located above the soil surface but some plants have underground stems.

Stems have four main functions which are: [1]

Stems have two pipe-like tissues called xylem and phloem. The xylem tissue transports water by the action of transpiration pull, capillary action and root pressure. The phloem tissue consists of sieve tubes and their companion cells. The two tissues are separated by cambium which is a tissue that divides to form xylem or phloem cells.

Specialized terms

Stems are often specialized for storage, asexual reproduction, protection or photosynthesis, including the following:

Climbing stem of Senecio angulatus. Senecio angulatus stems.jpg
Climbing stem of Senecio angulatus .
Decumbent stem in Cucurbita maxima. Cucurbita maxima Zapallo Plomo semilleria Costanzi - vine detail decumbent shoot and tendril.jpg
Decumbent stem in Cucurbita maxima .

Stem structure

Flax stem cross-section, showing locations of underlying tissues. Ep = epidermis; C = cortex; BF = bast fibres; P = phloem; X = xylem; Pi = pith Labeledstemforposter copy new.jpg
Flax stem cross-section, showing locations of underlying tissues. Ep = epidermis; C = cortex; BF = bast fibres; P = phloem; X = xylem; Pi = pith

Stem usually consist of three tissues, dermal tissue, ground tissue and vascular tissue. The dermal tissue covers the outer surface of the stem and usually functions to waterproof, protect and control gas exchange. The ground tissue usually consists mainly of parenchyma cells and fills in around the vascular tissue. It sometimes functions in photosynthesis. Vascular tissue provides long distance transport and structural support. Most or all ground tissue may be lost in woody stems. The dermal tissue of aquatic plants stems may lack the waterproofing found in aerial stems. The arrangement of the vascular tissues varies widely among plant species.

Dicot stems

Dicot stems with primary growth have pith in the center, with vascular bundles forming a distinct ring visible when the stem is viewed in cross section. The outside of the stem is covered with an epidermis, which is covered by a waterproof cuticle. The epidermis also may contain stomata for gas exchange and multicellular stem hairs called trichomes. A cortex consisting of hypodermis (collenchyma cells) and endodermis (starch containing cells) is present above the pericycle and vascular bundles.

Woody dicots and many nonwoody dicots have secondary growth originating from their lateral or secondary meristems: the vascular cambium and the cork cambium or phellogen. The vascular cambium forms between the xylem and phloem in the vascular bundles and connects to form a continuous cylinder. The vascular cambium cells divide to produce secondary xylem to the inside and secondary phloem to the outside. As the stem increases in diameter due to production of secondary xylem and secondary phloem, the cortex and epidermis are eventually destroyed. Before the cortex is destroyed, a cork cambium develops there. The cork cambium divides to produce waterproof cork cells externally and sometimes phelloderm cells internally. Those three tissues form the periderm, which replaces the epidermis in function. Areas of loosely packed cells in the periderm that function in gas exchange are called lenticels.

Secondary xylem is commercially important as wood. The seasonal variation in growth from the vascular cambium is what creates yearly tree rings in temperate climates. Tree rings are the basis of dendrochronology, which dates wooden objects and associated artifacts. Dendroclimatology is the use of tree rings as a record of past climates. The aerial stem of an adult tree is called a trunk. The dead, usually darker inner wood of a large diameter trunk is termed the heartwood and is the result of tylosis. The outer, living wood is termed the sapwood.

Monocot stems

Stems of two Roystonea regia palms showing characteristic bulge, leaf scars and fibrous roots, Kolkata, India Royal Palm Trunk.jpg
Stems of two Roystonea regia palms showing characteristic bulge, leaf scars and fibrous roots, Kolkata, India

Vascular bundles are present throughout the monocot stem, although concentrated towards the outside. This differs from the dicot stem that has a ring of vascular bundles and often none in the center. The shoot apex in monocot stems is more elongated. Leaf sheathes grow up around it, protecting it. This is true to some extent of almost all monocots. Monocots rarely produce secondary growth and are therefore seldom woody, with Palms and Bamboo being notable exceptions. However, many monocot stems increase in diameter via anomalous secondary growth.

Gymnosperm stems

All gymnosperms are woody plants. Their stems are similar in structure to woody dicots except that most gymnosperms produce only tracheids in their xylem, not the vessels found in dicots. Gymnosperm wood also often contains resin ducts. Woody dicots are called hardwoods, e.g. oak, maple and walnut. In contrast, softwoods are gymnosperms, such as pine, spruce and fir.

Fern stems

Most ferns have rhizomes with no vertical stem. The exception is tree ferns, with vertical stems up to about 20 metres. The stem anatomy of ferns is more complicated than that of dicots because fern stems often have one or more leaf gaps in cross section. A leaf gap is where the vascular tissue branches off to a frond. In cross section, the vascular tissue does not form a complete cylinder where a leaf gap occurs. Fern stems may have solenosteles or dictyosteles or variations of them. Many fern stems have phloem tissue on both sides of the xylem in cross-section.

Relation to xenobiotics

Foreign chemicals such as air pollutants, [3] herbicides and pesticides can damage stem structures.

Economic importance

White and green asparagus - crispy stems are the edible parts of this vegetable Asparagus produce-1.jpg
White and green asparagus – crispy stems are the edible parts of this vegetable

There are thousands of species whose stems have economic uses. Stems provide a few major staple crops such as potato and taro. Sugarcane stems are a major source of sugar. Maple sugar is obtained from trunks of maple trees. Vegetables from stems are asparagus, bamboo shoots, cactus pads or nopalitos, kohlrabi, and water chestnut. The spice, cinnamon is bark from a tree trunk. Gum arabic is an important food additive obtained from the trunks of Acacia senegal trees. Chicle, the main ingredient in chewing gum, is obtained from trunks of the chicle tree.

Medicines obtained from stems include quinine from the bark of cinchona trees, camphor distilled from wood of a tree in the same genus that provides cinnamon, and the muscle relaxant curare from the bark of tropical vines.

Wood is used in thousands of ways, e.g. buildings, furniture, boats, airplanes, wagons, car parts, musical instruments, sports equipment, railroad ties, utility poles, fence posts, pilings, toothpicks, matches, plywood, coffins, shingles, barrel staves, toys, tool handles, picture frames, veneer, charcoal and firewood. Wood pulp is widely used to make paper, paperboard, cellulose sponges, cellophane and some important plastics and textiles, such as cellulose acetate and rayon. Bamboo stems also have hundreds of uses, including paper, buildings, furniture, boats, musical instruments, fishing poles, water pipes, plant stakes, and scaffolding. Trunks of palm trees and tree ferns are often used for building. Stems of Reed are an important building material for use in thatching in some areas.

Tannins used for tanning leather are obtained from the wood of certain trees, such as quebracho. Cork is obtained from the bark of the cork oak. Rubber is obtained from the trunks of Hevea brasiliensis. Rattan, used for furniture and baskets, is made from the stems of tropical vining palms. Bast fibers for textiles and rope are obtained from stems include flax, hemp, jute and ramie. The earliest paper was obtained from the stems of papyrus by the ancient Egyptians.

Amber is fossilized sap from tree trunks; it is used for jewelry and may contain ancient animals. Resins from conifer wood are used to produce turpentine and rosin. Tree bark is often used as a mulch and in growing media for container plants. It also can become the natural habitat of lichens.

Some ornamental plants are grown mainly for their attractive stems, e.g.:

Related Research Articles

Xylem Water transport tissue in vascular plants

Xylem is one of the two types of transport tissue in vascular plants, the other being phloem. The basic function of xylem is to transport water from roots to stems and leaves, but it also transports nutrients. The word xylem is derived from the Ancient Greek word ξύλον (xylon), meaning "wood"; the best-known xylem tissue is wood, though it is found throughout a plant. The term was introduced by Carl Nägeli in 1858.

Phloem Sugar transport tissue in vascular plants

Phloem is the living tissue in vascular plants that transports the soluble organic compounds made during photosynthesis and known as photosynthates, in particular the sugar sucrose, to parts of the plant where needed. This transport process is called translocation. In trees, the phloem is the innermost layer of the bark, hence the name, derived from the Ancient Greek word φλοιός (phloiós), meaning "bark". The term was introduced by Carl Nägeli in 1858.

Vascular plant Clade of land plants with xylem and phloem

Vascular plants, also called tracheophytes or collectively Tracheophyta, form a large group of land plants that have lignified tissues for conducting water and minerals throughout the plant. They also have a specialized non-lignified tissue to conduct products of photosynthesis. Vascular plants include the clubmosses, horsetails, ferns, gymnosperms and angiosperms. Scientific names for the group include Tracheophyta, Tracheobionta and Equisetopsida sensu lato. Some early land plants had less developed vascular tissue; the term eutracheophyte has been used for all other vascular plants, including all living ones.

Tissue (biology) Group of cells having similar appearance and performing the same function

In biology, tissue is a biological organizational level between cells and a complete organ. A tissue is an ensemble of similar cells and their extracellular matrix from the same origin that together carry out a specific function. Organs are then formed by the functional grouping together of multiple tissues.

Bark (botany) Outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants

Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants. Plants with bark include trees, woody vines, and shrubs. Bark refers to all the tissues outside the vascular cambium and is a nontechnical term. It overlays the wood and consists of the inner bark and the outer bark. The inner bark, which in older stems is living tissue, includes the innermost layer of the periderm. The outer bark on older stems includes the dead tissue on the surface of the stems, along with parts of the outermost periderm and all the tissues on the outer side of the periderm. The outer bark on trees which lies external to the living periderm is also called the rhytidome.

Vascular cambium Main growth tissue in the stems, roots of plants

The vascular cambium is the main growth tissue in the stems and roots of many plants, specifically in dicots such as buttercups and oak trees, gymnosperms such as pine trees, as well as in certain other vascular plants. It produces secondary xylem inwards, towards the pith, and secondary phloem outwards, towards the bark.

Cork cambium Part of a plant

Cork cambium is a tissue found in many vascular plants as a part of the epidermis. It is one of the many layers of bark, between the cork and primary phloem. The cork cambium is a lateral meristem and is responsible for secondary growth that replaces the epidermis in roots and stems. It is found in woody and many herbaceous dicots, gymnosperms and some monocots. It is one of the plant's meristems – the series of tissues consisting of embryonic disk cells from which the plant grows. The function of cork cambium is to produce the cork, a tough protective material.

Meristem Type of plant tissue involved in cell proliferation

The meristem is a type of tissue found in plants. It consists of undifferentiated cells capable of cell division. Cells in the meristem can develop into all the other tissues and organs that occur in plants. These cells continue to divide until a time when they get differentiated and then lose the ability to divide.

Trunk (botany) Main wooden axis of a tree

In botany, the trunk is the stem and main wooden axis of a tree, which is an important feature in tree identification, and which often differs markedly from the bottom of the trunk to the top, depending on the species. The trunk is the most important part of the tree for timber production.

In a vascular plant, the stele is the central part of the root or stem containing the tissues derived from the procambium. These include vascular tissue, in some cases ground tissue (pith) and a pericycle, which, if present, defines the outermost boundary of the stele. Outside the stele lies the endodermis, which is the innermost cell layer of the cortex.

Lepidodendron is an extinct genus of primitive, vascular plants also known as scale trees, related to the quillworts and lycopsids. They were part of the coal forest flora. They sometimes reached heights of 50 metres, and the trunks were often over 1 m (3.3 ft) in diameter. They thrived during the Carboniferous Period (about 359.2 ± 2.5 Mya. Sometimes erroneously called "giant club mosses", the genus was actually more closely related to modern quillworts than to modern club mosses. Within the form classification system used within paleobotany, Lepidodendron is both used for the whole plant as well as specifically the stems and leaves.

<i>Calamites</i> Extinct genus of vascular plants in the Order Equisetales

Calamites is a genus of extinct arborescent (tree-like) horsetails to which the modern horsetails are closely related. Unlike their herbaceous modern cousins, these plants were medium-sized trees, growing to heights of 30-50 meters. They were components of the understories of coal swamps of the Carboniferous Period.

The pericycle is a cylinder of parenchyma or sclerenchyma cells that lies just inside the endodermis and is the outer most part of the stele of plants.

Vascular tissue Conducting tissue in vascular plants

Vascular tissue is a complex conducting tissue, formed of more than one cell type, found in vascular plants. The primary components of vascular tissue are the xylem and phloem. These two tissues transport fluid and nutrients internally. There are also two meristems associated with vascular tissue: the vascular cambium and the cork cambium. All the vascular tissues within a particular plant together constitute the vascular tissue system of that plant.

Secondary growth Type of growth in plants

In botany, secondary growth is the growth that results from cell division in the cambia or lateral meristems and that causes the stems and roots to thicken, while primary growth is growth that occurs as a result of cell division at the tips of stems and roots, causing them to elongate, and gives rise to primary tissue. Secondary growth occurs in most seed plants, but monocots usually lack secondary growth. If they do have secondary growth, it differs from the typical pattern of other seed plants.

The unifacial cambium produces cells to the interior of its cylinder. These cells differentiate into xylem tissue. Unlike the more common bifacial cambium found in later woody plants, the unifacial cambium does not produce phloem to its exterior. Also in contrast to the bifacial cambium, the unifacial cambium is unable to expand its circumference with anticlinal cell division. Cell elongation provides a limited amount of expansion.

Lepidodendrales Extinct order of vascular tree-like plants

Lepidodendrales were primitive, vascular, arborescent (tree-like) plants related to the lycopsids. Members of Lepidodendrales are the best understood of the fossil lycopsids due to the vast diversity of Lepidodendrales specimens and the diversity in which they were preserved; the extensive distribution of Lepidodendrales specimens as well as their well-preservedness lends paleobotanists exceptionally detailed knowledge of the coal-swamp giants’ reproductive biology, vegetative development, and role in their paleoecosystem. The defining characteristics of the Lepidodendrales are their secondary xylem, extensive periderm development, three-zoned cortex, rootlike appendages known as stigmarian rootlets arranged in a spiralling pattern, and megasporangium each containing a single functional megaspore that germinates inside the sporangium. Many of these different plant organs have been assigned both generic and specific names as relatively few have been found organically attached to each other. Some specimens have been discovered which indicate heights of 40 and even 50 meters and diameters of over 2 meters at the base. The massive trunks of some species branched profusely, producing large crowns of leafy twigs; though some leaves were up to 1 meter long, most were much shorter, and when leaves dropped from branches their conspicuous leaf bases remained on the surface of branches. Strobili could be found at the tips of distal branches or in an area at the top of the main trunk. The underground organs of Lepidodendrales typically consisted of dichotomizing axes bearing helically arranged, lateral appendages serving an equivalent function to roots. Sometimes called "giant club mosses", they are believed to be more closely related to extant quillworts based on xylem, although fossil specimens of extinct Selaginellales from the Late Carboniferous also had secondary xylem.

Woody plant Plant that produces wood and has a hard stem

A woody plant is a plant that produces wood as its structural tissue and thus has a hard stem. In cold climates, woody plants further survive winter or dry season above ground, as opposite to herbaceous plants that die back to the ground until spring.

Tree Perennial woody plant with elongated trunk

In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated stem, or trunk, usually supporting branches and leaves. In some usages, the definition of a tree may be narrower, including only woody plants with secondary growth, plants that are usable as lumber or plants above a specified height. In wider definitions, the taller palms, tree ferns, bananas, and bamboos are also trees. Trees are not a taxonomic group but include a variety of plant species that have independently evolved a trunk and branches as a way to tower above other plants to compete for sunlight. The majority of tree species are angiosperms or hardwoods; of the rest, many are gymnosperms or softwoods. Trees tend to be long-lived, some reaching several thousand years old. Trees have been in existence for 370 million years. It is estimated that there are some three trillion mature trees in the world.


A cambium, in plants, is a tissue layer that provides partially undifferentiated cells for plant growth. It is found in the area between xylem and phloem. A cambium can also be defined as a cellular plant tissue from which phloem, xylem, or cork grows by division, resulting in secondary thickening. It forms parallel rows of cells, which result in secondary tissues.


  1. Raven, Peter H., Ray Franklin Evert, and Helena Curtis (1981). Biology of Plants. New York: Worth Publishers. ISBN   0-87901-132-7.
  2. Goebel, K.E.v. (1969) [1905]. Organography of plants, especially of the Archegoniatae and Spermaphyta. New York: Hofner publishing company.
  3. C. Michael Hogan. 2010. "Abiotic factor". Encyclopedia of Earth. Emily Monosson and C. Cleveland, eds. National Council for Science and the Environment Archived 2013-06-08 at the Wayback Machine . Washington, D.C.

Further reading