Transportation in plants for Water and Food Supply

In humans and other animals, the transport of substances occurs due to the circulatory system.

In unicellular organisms, the transport within the cell occurs by cytoplasmic movements or by diffusion.

But, transportation in plants is quite different. They have no circulatory system yet; the substances have to move to distant places.

Water, plant growth regulators, minerals, organic nutrients are the substances that need to move within the plant.

Transport usually occurs in two forms.

  1. Short distance transport occurs by diffusion and cytoplasmic streaming.
  2. Long-distance transport occurs by xylem and phloem (Translocation).

Sugars formed at the leaves have to move to the root tips, branches, and other plant areas. This is a multi-directional movement.

Similarly, water from root tips has to move to all the upper parts of the plant body. This movement is unidirectional and occurs only upwards from the roots.

The movement of substances into the cells and in between the cells is of short distance.

Methods of Transportation in plants

Simple Diffusion

  • This is a process of movement from the regions of higher concentration to lower concentration. Here no energy expenditure occurs.
  • It helps in the transport of substances from one part of the cell to another, one cell to another cell, in between tissue spaces to outside, etc.
  • Diffusion is suited to the movement of gases, liquids, and also dissolved solids.
  • This is very crucial to plants as it helps in gases movement within the plant.

This diffusion is controlled by the concentration, temperature, cell membrane permeability, and pressure.

Transportation in plants by diffusion
ATP enhanced channels indicate active transport while other channels are involved in facilitated diffusion. (Image By OpenStax /

Facilitated diffusion

  • This is similar to simple diffusion in that it does not require ATP energy for transport.
  • But, the process varies in that substances move through the membranes through pores or channels. These channels are formed by membrane proteins.
  • Of these porin channels, some act as symports and others act as antiports.
  • Symports allow the movement of two molecules across the membrane simultaneously in the same direction.
  • While the antiport channels allow simultaneous movement in opposite directions.

Certain proteins, ions, and other water-soluble substances are transported by this method.

Active transport

  • Here the molecules move against the concentration gradient.
  • That is they move from a region of lower concentration to higher concentration with help of ATP energy.
  • Some membrane channels act as pumps.
  • These pumps are made of proteins that use energy to move substances.
  • Both facilitated diffusion and active transport reach saturation when all the pores are engaged.
  • Further, they are very specific in what molecules travel through them across the membrane.

Water movement upwards involves

  • Capillary action or root pressure
  • Transpiration Pull
  • Root pressure is the pressure developed on the water by the root to move upwards.
  • This pressure helps the movement of water to short distances.
  • This root pressure can be seen as oozing out of the water from plant surfaces in the early mornings.
  • This process accounts only for a minute amount of water movement upwards.
  • The transpiration pull plays a major role in the movement of water upwards.
  • This creates a water gradient for the water to move up into leaves from the xylem below.
  • This process is higher during the day and less at night.

So, the water movement from roots to the leaves is facilitated by capillary action, water gradient, and transpiration.

Movement of organic nutrients, proteins, growth modulators.

  • This occurs through a system of communicating tissue called phloem.
  • The movement occurs in three directions like upwards, downward and radial movement.
  • This is thought to occur by the mass flow hypothesis.
  • When the sugars are formed in leaves by photosynthesis.
  • Then, they are moved by leaf veins into the sieve tube cells.
  • The loading of sugar into the sieve tubes occurs by active transport using H+/ ATP pump.
  • This phloem loading increases osmotic pressure to draw water from the xylem.
  • As water accumulates inside, the sap moves into regions of low pressure.
  • The sieve tubes form long columns with holes at their ends called sieve plates.
  • These plates connect with cytoplasmic strands to help move sap into the cells.
  • This loading of sap into cells is also an active process that needs energy.

As the sugars move out of sieve tubes, the osmotic pressure reduces, and water moves back into the phloem.

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