NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11 – Transport in Plants

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NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11 – Transport in Plants

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Book for Class XI
Subject: Biology
Chapter: Chapter 11 – Transport in Plants

Class XI NCERT Biology Text Book Chapter 11 Transport in Plants is given below.

Have you ever wondered how water reaches the top of tall trees, or for thatmatter how and why substances move from one cell to the other, whetherall substances move in a similar way, in the same direction and whethermetabolic energy is required for moving substances. Plants need to movemolecules over very long distances, much more than animals do; they alsodo not have a circulatory system in place. Water taken up by the roots hasto reach all parts of the plant, up to the very tip of the growing stem. Thephotosynthates or food synthesised by the leaves have also to be moved toall parts including the root tips embedded deep inside the soil. Movementacross short distances, say within the cell, across the membranes and fromcell to cell within the tissue has also to take place. To understand some ofthe transport processes that take place in plants, one would have to recollectone’s basic knowledge about the structure of the cell and the anatomy ofthe plant body. We also need to revisit our understanding of diffusion,besides gaining some knowledge about chemical potential and ions.When we talk of the movement of substances we need first to definewhat kind of movement we are talking about, and also what substanceswe are looking at. In a flowering plant the substances that would need tobe transported are water, mineral nutrients, organic nutrients and plantgrowth regulators. Over small distances substances move by diffusionand by cytoplasmic streaming supplemented by active transport.Transport over longer distances proceeds through the vascular system(the xylem and the phloem) and is called translocation.

An important aspect that needs to be considered is the direction oftransport. In rooted plants, transport in xylem (of water and minerals) isessentially unidirectional, from roots to the stems. Organic and mineralnutrients however, undergo multidirectional transport. Organic compounds synthesised in the photosynthetic leaves are exported to allother parts of the plant including storage organs. From the storage organsthey are later re-exported. The mineral nutrients are taken up by theroots and transported upwards into the stem, leaves and the growingregions. When any plant part undergoes senescence, nutrients may bewithdrawn from such regions and moved to the growing parts. Hormonesor plant growth regulators and other chemical stimuli are also transported,though in very small amounts, sometimes in a strictly polarised orunidirectional manner from where they are synthesised to other parts.Hence, in a flowering plant there is a complex traffic of compounds (butprobably very orderly) moving in different directions, each organ receivingsome substances and giving out some others.


11.1.1 Diffusion

Movement by diffusion is passive, and may be from one part of the cell tothe other, or from cell to cell, or over short distances, say, from the intercellularspaces of the leaf to the outside. No energy expenditure takesplace. In diffusion, molecules move in a random fashion, the net resultbeing substances moving from regions of higher concentration to regionsof lower concentration. Diffusion is a slow process and is not dependent ona ‘living system’. Diffusion is obvious in gases and liquids, but diffusion insolids rather than of solids is more likely. Diffusion is very important toplants since it the only means for gaseous movement within the plant body.Diffusion rates are affected by the gradient of concentration, thepermeability of the membrane separating them, temperature and pressure.

11.1.2 Facilitated Diffusion

As pointed out earlier, a gradient must already be present for diffusion tooccur. The diffusion rate depends on the size of the substances; obviouslysmaller substances diffuse faster. The diffusion of any substance across amembrane also depends on its solubility in lipids, the major constituent ofthe membrane. Substances soluble in lipids diffuse through the membranefaster. Substances that have a hydrophilic moiety, find it difficult to passthrough the membrane; their movement has to be facilitated. Membraneproteins provide sites at which such molecules cross the membrane. Theydo not set up a concentration gradient: a concentration gradient mustalready be present for molecules to diffuse even if facilitated by the proteins.This process is called facilitated diffusion.

In facilitated diffusion special proteins help move substances acrossmembranes without expenditure of ATP energy. Facilitated diffusioncannot cause net transport of molecules from a low to a high concentration– this would require input of energy. Transport rate reaches a maximumwhen all of the protein transporters are being used (saturation). Facilitated

NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants
NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

diffusion is very specific: it allows cell toselect substances for uptake. It issensitive to inhibitors which react withprotein side chains.

The proteins form channels in themembrane for molecules to pass through.Some channels are always open; otherscan be controlled. Some are large,allowing a variety of molecules to cross.The porins are proteins that form hugepores in the outer membranes of theplastids, mitochondria and some bacteriaallowing molecules up to the size of smallproteins to pass through.

Figure 11.1 shows an extracellularmolecule bound to the transport protein;the transport protein then rotates andreleases the molecule inside the cell, e.g.,water channels – made up of eightdifferent types of aquaporins. Passive symports andantiports

Some carrier or transport proteins allow
diffusion only if two types of molecules
move together. In a symport, both
molecules cross the membrane in the same
direction; in an antiport, they move in
opposite directions (Figure 11.2). When a molecule moves across a membrane independent of other molecules, the process is called uniport.

11.1.3 Active Transport

Active transport uses energy to pump molecules against a concentrationgradient. Active transport is carried out by membrane-proteins. Hencedifferent proteins in the membrane play a major role in both active as wellas passive transport. Pumps are proteins that use energy to carrysubstances across the cell membrane. These pumps can transportsubstances from a low concentration to a high concentration (‘uphill’transport). Transport rate reaches a maximum when all the proteintransporters are being used or are saturated. Like enzymes the carrierprotein is very specific in what it carries across the membrane. Theseproteins are sensitive to inhibitors that react with protein side chains.

11.1.4 Comparison of Different Transport Processes

Table 11.1 gives a comparison of the different transport mechanisms.Proteins in the membrane are responsible for facilitated diffusion andactive transport and hence show common characterstics of being highlyselective; they are liable to saturate, respond to inhibitors and are underhormonal regulation. But diffusion whether facilitated or not – take place
only along a gradient and do not use energy.

NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants


Water is essential for all physiological activities of the plant and plays avery important role in all living organisms. It provides the medium inwhich most substances are dissolved. The protoplasm of the cells isnothing but water in which different molecules are dissolved and (severalparticles) suspended. A watermelon has over 92 per cent water; mostherbaceous plants have only about 10 to 15 per cent of its fresh weightas dry matter. Of course, distribution of water within a plant varies –woody parts have relatively very little water, while soft parts mostly contain water. A seed   may appear dry but it still has water – otherwise it would not be alive and respiring!

Terrestrial plants take up huge amount water daily but most of it islost to the air through evaporation from the leaves, i.e., transpiration. Amature corn plant absorbs almost three litres of water in a day, while amustard plant absorbs water equal to its own weight in about 5 hours.Because of this high demand for water, it is not surprising that water isoften the limiting factor for plant growth and productivity in bothagricultural and natural environments.

11.2.1 Water Potential

To comprehend plant-water relations, an understanding of certainstandard terms is necessary. Water potential (Ψw) is a conceptfundamental to understanding water movement. Solute potential(Ψs) and pressure potential (Ψp) are the two main components thatdetermine water potential.

Water molecules possess kinetic energy. In liquid and gaseous formthey are in random motion that is both rapid and constant. The greaterthe concentration of water in a system, the greater is its kinetic energy or‘water potential’. Hence, it is obvious that pure water will have the greatestwater potential. If two systems containing water are in contact, randommovement of water molecules will result in net movement of watermolecules from the system with higher energy to the one with lower energy.Thus water will move from the system containing water at higher waterpotential to the one having low water potential. This process of movementof substances down a gradient of free energy is called diffusion. Waterpotential is denoted by the Greek symbol Psi or Ψ and is expressed inpressure units such as pascals (Pa). By convention, the water potentialof pure water at standard temperatures, which is not under any pressure,
is taken to be zero.

If some solute is dissolved in pure water, the solution has fewer freewater and the concentration of water decreases, reducing its waterpotential. Hence, all solutions have a lower water potential than purewater; the magnitude of this lowering due to dissolution of a solute iscalled solute potential or Ψs. Ψs is always negative. The more thesolute molecules, the lower (more negative) is the Ψs . For a solution atatmospheric pressure (water potential) Ψw = (solute potential) Ψs.If a pressure greater than atmospheric pressure is applied to purewater or a solution, its water potential increases. It is equivalent topumping water from one place to another. Can you think of any systemin our body where pressure is built up? Pressure can build up in a plantsystem when water enters a plant cell due to diffusion causing a pressurebuilt up against the cell wall, it makes the cell turgid (see section 11.2.2);

this increases the pressure potential. Pressure potential is usuallypositive, though in plants negative potential or tension in the water columnin the xylem plays a major role in water transport up a stem. Pressurepotential is denoted as Ψp.

Water potential of a cell is affected by both solute and pressurepotential. The relationship between them is as follows:

NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

11.2.2 Osmosis

The plant cell is surrounded by a cell membrane and a cell wall. The cellwall is freely permeable to water and substances in solution hence is nota barrier to movement. In plants the cells usually contain a large centralvacuole, whose contents, the vacuolar sap, contribute to the solutepotential of the cell. In plant cells, the cell membrane and the membraneof the vacuole, the tonoplast together are important determinants ofmovement of molecules in or out of the cell.

Osmosis is the term used to refer specifically to the diffusion of wateracross a differentially- or semi-permeable membrane. Osmosis occursspontaneously in response to a driving force. The net direction and rate ofosmosis depends on both the pressure gradient and concentration gradient.Water will move from its region of higher chemical potential (or concentration)to its region of lower chemical potential until equilibrium is reached. Atequilibrium the two chambers should have the same water potential.You may have made a potato osmometer at some earlier stage inschool. If the tuber is placed in water, the cavity in the potato tubercontaining a concentrated solution of sugar collects water due to osmosis.Study Figure 11.3 in which the two chambers, A and B, containingsolutions are separated by a semi-permeable membrane.
NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

(a) Solution of which chamber has alower water potential?

(b) Solution of which chamber has alower solute potential?

(c) In which direction will osmosisoccur?

(d) Which solution has a higher solutepotential?

(e) At equilibrium which chamber willhave lower water potential?

(f) If one chamber has a Ψ of – 2000 kPa,and the other – 1000 kPa, which is the chamber that has the higher Ψ?

NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

Let us discuss another experiment where asolution of sucrose in water taken in a funnel isseparated from pure water in a beaker througha semi-permeable membrane (Figure 11.4). Youcan get this kind of a membrane in an egg.Remove the yolk and albumin through a smallhole at one end of the egg, and place the shellin dilute solution of hydrochloric acid for a fewhours. The egg shell dissolves leaving themembrane intact. Water will move into the funnel,resulting in rise in the level of the solution in thefunnel. This will continue till the equilibrium isreached. In case sucrose does diffuse outthrough the membrane, will this equilibrium beever reached?

External pressure can be applied from theupper part of the funnel such that no waterdiffuses into the funnel through the membrane.This pressure required to prevent water fromdiffusing is in fact, the osmotic pressure and thisis the function of the solute concentration; morethe solute concentration, greater will be thepressure required to prevent water from diffusingin. Numerically osmotic pressure is equivalentto the osmotic potential, but the sign isopposite.Osmotic pressure is the positivepressure applied, while osmotic potential isnegative.

11.2.3 Plasmolysis

The behaviour of the plant cells (or tissues) withregard to water movement depends on thesurrounding solution. If the external solutionbalances the osmotic pressure of the cytoplasm,it is said to be isotonic. If the external solutionis more dilute than the cytoplasm, it ishypotonic and if the external solution is moreconcentrated, it is hypertonic. Cells swell inhypotonic solutions and shrink in hypertonicones.

Plasmolysis occurs when water moves out ofthe cell and the cell membrane of a plant cellshrinks away from its cell wall. This occurs when

NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

the cell (or tissue) is placed in a solution that is hypertonic (has more solutes)to the protoplasm. Water moves out; it is first lost from the cytoplasm andthen from the vacuole. The water when drawn out of the cell throughdiffusion into the extracellular (outside cell) fluid causes the protoplast toshrink away from the walls. The cell is said to be plasmolysed. The movementof water occurred across the membrane moving from an area of high waterpotential (i.e., the cell) to an area of lower water potential outside the cell(Figure 11.5).

What occupies the space between the cell wall and the shrunkenprotoplast in the plasmolysed cell?

When the cell (or tissue) is placed in an isotonic solution, there is nonet flow of water towards the inside or outside. If the external solutionbalances the osmotic pressure of the cytoplasm it is said to be isotonic.When water flows into the cell and out of the cell and are in equilibrium,the cells are said to be flaccid.

The process of plamolysis is usually reversible. When the cells areplaced in a hypotonic solution (higher water potential or dilute solutionas compared to the cytoplasm), water diffuses into the cell causing thecytoplasm to build up a pressure against the wall, that is called turgorpressure. The pressure exerted by the protoplasts due to entry of wateragainst the rigid walls is called pressure potential Ψp.. Because of therigidity of the cell wall, the cell does not rupture. This turgor pressure isultimately responsible for enlargement and extension growth of cells.What would be the Ψp of a flaccid cell? Which organisms other thanplants possess cell wall ?

11.2.4 Imbibition

Imbibition is a special type of diffusion when water is absorbed by solids– colloids – causing them to enormously increase in volume. The classical examples of imbibition are absorption of water by seeds and dry wood.The pressure that is produced by the swelling of wood had been used byprehistoric man to split rocks and boulders. If it were not for the pressuredue to imbibition, seedlings would not have been able to emerge out ofthe soil into the open; they probably would not have been able to establish!Imbibition is also diffusion since water movement is along aconcentration gradient; the seeds and other such materials have almost nowater hence they absorb water easily. Water potential gradient betweenthe absorbent and the liquid imbibed is essential for imbibition. In addition,for any substance to imbibe any liquid, affinity between the adsorbant andthe liquid is also a pre-requisite.


At some earlier stage you might have carried out an experiment whereyou had placed a twig bearing white flowers in coloured water and hadwatched it turn colour. On examining the cut end of the twig after a fewhours you had noted the region through which the coloured water moved.That experiment very easily demonstrates that the path of water movementis through the vascular bundles, more specifically, the xylem. Now wehave to go further and try and understand the mechanism of movementof water and other substances up a plant.

Long distance transport of substances within a plant cannot be bydiffusion alone. Diffusion is a slow process. It can account for only shortdistance movement of molecules. For example, the movement of a moleculeacross a typical plant cell (about 50 μm) takes approximately 2.5 s. At thisrate, can you calculate how many years it would take for the movementof molecules over a distance of 1 m within a plant by diffusion alone?In large and complex organisms, often substances have to be movedacross very large distances. Sometimes the sites of production orabsorption and sites of storage are too far from each other; diffusion oractive transport would not suffice. Special long distance transport systemsbecome necessary so as to move substances across long distances and ata much faster rate. Water and minerals, and food are generally moved bya mass or bulk flow system. Mass flow is the movement of substances inbulk or en masse from one point to another as a result of pressuredifferences between the two points. It is a characteristic of mass flow thatsubstances, whether in solution or in suspension, are swept along at thesame pace, as in a flowing river. This is unlike diffusion where differentsubstances move independently depending on their concentrationgradients. Bulk flow can be achieved either through a positive hydrostaticpressure gradient (e.g., a garden hose) or a negative hydrostatic pressure
gradient (e.g., suction through a straw).

The bulk movement of substances through the conducting or vasculartissues of plants is called translocation.

Do you remember studying cross sections of roots, stems and leavesof higher plants and studying the vascular system? The higher plantshave highly specialised vascular tissues – xylem and phloem. Xylem isassociated with translocation of mainly water, mineral salts, some organicnitrogen and hormones, from roots to the aerial parts of the plants. Thephloem translocates a variety of organic and inorganic solutes, mainlyfrom the leaves to other parts of the plants.

11.3.1 How do Plants Absorb Water?

We know that the roots absorb most of the water that goes into plants;obviously that is why we apply water to the soil and not on the leaves.The responsibility of absorption of water and minerals is more specificallythe function of the root hairs that are present in millions at the tips of theroots. Root hairs are thin-walled slender extensions of root epidermalcells that greatly increase the surface area for absorption. Water isabsorbed along with mineral solutes, by the root hairs, purely by diffusion.Once water is absorbed by the root hairs, it can move deeper into rootlayers by two distinct pathways:

  •  apoplast pathway
  •  symplast pathway

The apoplast is the system of adjacent cell walls that is continuous throughout the plant, except at the casparian strips of the endodermisin the roots (Figure 11.6). The apoplastic movement of water occursexclusively through the intercellular spaces and the walls of the cells.Movement through the apoplast does not involve crossing the cell

NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

membrane. This movement is dependent on the gradient. The apoplastdoes not provide any barrier to water movement and water movement isthrough mass flow. As water evaporates into the intercellular spaces orthe atmosphere, tension develop in the continuous stream of water in theapoplast, hence mass flow of water occurs due to the adhesive and cohesiveproperties of water.

The symplastic system is the system of interconnected protoplasts.Neighbouring cells are connected through cytoplasmic strands thatextend through plasmodesmata. During symplastic movement, the watertravels through the cells – their cytoplasm; intercellular movement isthrough the plasmodesmata. Water has to enter the cells through thecell membrane, hence the movement is relatively slower. Movement is againdown a potential gradient. Symplastic movement may be aided bycytoplasmic streaming. You may have observed cytoplasmic streamingin cells of the Hydrilla leaf; the movement of chloroplast due to streamingis easily visible.

Most of the water flow in the roots occurs via the apoplast since thecortical cells are loosely packed, and hence offer no resistance to watermovement. However, the inner boundary of the cortex, the endodermis,is impervious to water because of a band of suberised matrix called thecasparian strip. Water molecules are unable to penetrate the layer, sothey are directed to wall regions that are not suberised, into the cellsproper through the membranes. The water then moves through thesymplast and again crosses a membrane to reach the cells of the xylem.The movement of water through the root layers is ultimately symplasticin the endodermis. This is the onlyway water and other solutes canenter the vascular cylinder.
NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

Once inside the xylem, water isagain free to move between cells aswell as through them. In youngroots, water enters directly into thexylem vessels and/or tracheids.These are non-living conduits andso are parts of the apoplast. Thepath of water and mineral ions intothe root vascular system issummarised in Figure 11.7.Some plants have additionalstructures associated with themthat help in water (and mineral)absorption. A mycorrhiza is asymbiotic association of a funguswith a root system. The fungal

filaments form a network around the young root or they penetrate theroot cells. The hyphae have a very large surface area that absorb mineralions and water from the soil from a much larger volume of soil that perhapsa root cannot do. The fungus provides minerals and water to the roots, inturn the roots provide sugars and N-containing compounds to themycorrhizae. Some plants have an obligate association with themycorrhizae. For example, Pinus seeds cannot germinate and establishwithout the presence of mycorrhizae.

11.3.2 Water Movement up a Plant

We looked at how plants absorb water from the soil, and move it into thevascular tissues. We now have to try and understand how this water istransported to various parts of the plant. Is the water movement active, oris it still passive? Since the water has to be moved up a stem againstgravity, what provides the energy for this? Root Pressure

As various ions from the soil are actively transported into the vasculartissues of the roots, water follows (its potential gradient) and increasesthe pressure inside the xylem. This positive pressure is called rootpressure, and can be responsible for pushing up water to small heightsin the stem. How can we see that root pressure exists? Choose a smallsoft-stemmed plant and on a day, when there is plenty of atmosphericmoisture, cut the stem horizontally near the base with a sharp blade,early in the morning. You will soon see drops of solution ooze out of thecut stem; this comes out due to the positive root pressure. If you fix arubber tube to the cut stem as a sleeve you can actually collect andmeasure the rate of exudation, and also determine the composition of theexudates. Effects of root pressure is also observable at night and earlymorning when evaporation is low, and excess water collects in the form ofdroplets around special openings of veins near the tip of grass blades,and leaves of many herbaceous parts. Such water loss in its liquid phaseis known as guttation.

Root pressure can, at best, only provide a modest push in the overallprocess of water transport. They obviously do not play a major role inwater movement up tall trees. The greatest contribution of root pressuremay be to re-establish the continuous chains of water molecules in thexylem which often break under the enormous tensions created bytranspiration. Root pressure does not account for the majority of watertransport; most plants meet their need by transpiratory pull. Transpiration pull

Despite the absence of a heart or a circulatory system in plants, the flow of water upward through the xylem in plants can  achieve fairly high rates, up to 15 metres per hour. How is this movement accomplished? A long standing question   is, whether water is ‘pushed’ or ‘pulled’ through the plant. Most researchers agree that water is mainly ‘pulled’ through   the plant, and that the driving force for this process is transpiration from the leaves. This is referred to as the cohesion-  tension-transpiration pull model of water transport. But, what generates this transpirational pull? Water is transient in   plants. Less than 1 per cent of the water reaching the leaves is used in photosynthesis and plant growth. Most of it is lost
through the stomata in the leaves. This water loss is known as transpiration.

You have studied transpiration in an earlier class by enclosing a healthyplant in polythene bag and observing the droplets of water formed insidethe bag. You could also study water loss from a leaf using cobalt chloridepaper, which turns colour on absorbing water.


Transpiration is the evaporative loss of water by plants. It occurs mainlythrough the stomata in the leaves. Besides the loss of water vapour intranspiration, exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the leaf alsooccurs through pores called stomata (sing. : stoma). Normally stomataare open in the day time and close during the night. The immediate causeof the opening or closing of the stomata is a change in the turgidity of theguard cells. The inner wall of each guard cell, towards the pore or stomatalaperture, is thick and elastic. When turgidity increases within the twoguard cells flanking each stomatal aperture or pore, the thin outer wallsbulge out and force the inner walls into a crescent shape. The opening ofthe stoma is also aided due to the orientation of the microfibrils in the cellwalls of the guard cells. Cellulose microfibrils are oriented radially ratherthan longitudinally making it easier for the stoma to open. When theguard cells lose turgor, due to water loss (or water stress) the elastic innerwalls regain their original shape, the guard cells become flaccid and thestoma closes.

NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

Usually the lower surface of adorsiventral (often dicotyledonous) leafhas a greater number of stomata while inan isobilateral (often monocotyledonous)leaf they are about equal on both surfaces.Transpiration is affected by severalexternal factors: temperature, light,humidity, wind speed. Plant factors thataffect transpiration include number anddistribution of stomata, number of

stomata open, per cent, water status of the plant, canopy structure etc.The transpiration driven ascent of xylem sap depends mainly on thefollowing physical properties of water:

  •  Cohesion – mutual attraction between water molecules.
  • Adhesion – attraction of water molecules to polar surfaces (suchas the surface of tracheary elements).
  •  Surface Tension – water molecules are attracted to each other inthe liquid phase more than to water in the gas phase.

These properties give water high tensile strength, i.e., an ability toresist a pulling force, and high capillarity, i.e., the ability to rise in thintubes. In plants capillarity is aided by the small diameter of the trachearyelements – the tracheids and vessel elements.

The process of photosynthesis requires water. The system of xylemvessels from the root to the leaf vein can supply the needed water. Butwhat force does a plant use to move water molecules into the leafparenchyma cells where they are needed? As water evaporates throughthe stomata, since the thin film of water over the cells is continuous, itresults in pulling of water, molecule by molecule, into the leaf from thexylem. Also, because of lower concentration of water vapour in theatmosphere as compared to the substomatal cavity and intercellularspaces, water diffuses into the surrounding air. This creates a ‘pull’(Figure 11.9).

Measurements reveal that the forces generated by transpiration cancreate pressures sufficient to lift a xylem sized column of water over 130metres high.

NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

Figure11.9 Water movement in the leaf. Evaporation from the leaf sets upa pressure gradient between the outside air and the air spaces of theleaf. The gradient is transmitted into the photosynthetic cells and onthe water-filled xylem in the leaf vein.

11.4.1 Transpiration and Photosynthesis – a Compromise

Transpiration has more than one purpose; it

  • creates transpiration pull for absorption and transport of plants
  • supplies water for photosynthesis
  • transports minerals from the soil to all parts of the plant
  • cools leaf surfaces, sometimes 10 to 15 degrees, by evaporativecooling
  • maintains the shape and structure of the plants by keeping cellsturgid
  • An actively photosynthesising plant has an insatiable need for water.

Photosynthesis is limited by available water which can be swiftly depletedby transpiration. The humidity of rainforests is largely due to this vastcycling of water from root to leaf to atmosphere and back to the soil.

The evolution of the C4 photosynthetic system is probably one of the strategies for maximising the availability of CO2  while minimising water loss. C4 plants are twice as efficient as C3 plants in terms of fixing carbon (making sugar).  However, a C4 plant loses only half as much water as a C3 plant for the same amount of CO2 fixed.


Plants obtain their carbon and most of their oxygen from CO2 in theatmosphere. However, their remaining nutritional requirements areobtained from minerals and water for hydrogen in the soil.

11.5.1 Uptake of Mineral Ions

Unlike water, all minerals cannot be passively absorbed by the roots.Two factors account for this: (i) minerals are present in the soil as chargedparticles (ions) which cannot move across cell membranes and (ii) theconcentration of minerals in the soil is usually lower than the concentrationof minerals in the root. Therefore, most minerals must enter the root byactive absorption into the cytoplasm of epidermal cells. This needs energyin the form of ATP. The active uptake of ions is partly responsible for thewater potential gradient in roots, and therefore for the uptake of water byosmosis. Some ions also move into the epidermal cells passively.

Ions are absorbed from the soil by both passive and active transport.Specific proteins in the membranes of root hair cells actively pump ionsfrom the soil into the cytoplasms of the epidermal cells. Like all cells, theendodermal cells have many transport proteins embedded in their plasmamembrane; they let some solutes cross the membrane, but not others.Transport proteins of endodermal cells are control points, where a plantadjusts the quantity and types of solutes that reach the xylem. Notethat the root endodermis because of the layer of suberin has the ability toactively transport ions in one direction only.

11.5.2 Translocation of Mineral Ions

After the ions have reached xylem through active or passive uptake, or acombination of the two, their further transport up the stem to all parts ofthe plant is through the transpiration stream.

The chief sinks for the mineral elements are the growing regions of theplant, such as the apical and lateral meristems, young leaves, developingflowers, fruits and seeds, and the storage organs. Unloading of mineralions occurs at the fine vein endings through diffusion and active uptakeby these cells.

Mineral ions are frequently remobilised, particularly from older,senescing parts. Older dying leaves export much of their mineral contentto younger leaves. Similarly, before leaf fall in decidous plants, mineralsare removed to other parts. Elements most readily mobilised arephosphorus, sulphur, nitrogen and potassium. Some elements that arestructural components like calcium are not remobilised.

An analysis of the xylem exudates shows that though some of thenitrogen travels as inorganic ions, much of it is carried in the organicform as amino acids and related compounds. Similarly, small amountsof P and S are carried as organic compounds. In addition, small amountof exchange of materials does take place between xylem and phloem.Hence, it is not that we can clearly make a distinction and say categoricallythat xylem transports only inorganic nutrients while phloem transportsonly organic materials, as was traditionally believed.


Food, primarily sucrose, is transported by the vascular tissue phloemfrom a source to a sink. Usually the source is understood to be thatpart of the plant which synthesises the food, i.e., the leaf, and sink, thepart that needs or stores the food. But, the source and sink may bereversed depending on the season, or the plant’s needs. Sugar storedin roots may be mobilised to become a source of food in the early springwhen the buds of trees, act as sink; they need energy for growth anddevelopment of the photosynthetic apparatus. Since the source-sinkrelationship is variable, the direction of movement in the phloem canbe upwards or downwards, i.e., bi-directional. This contrasts withthat of the xylem where the movement is always unidirectional, i.e.,upwards. Hence, unlike one-way flow of water in transpiration, foodin phloem sap can be transported in any required direction so longas there is a source of sugar and a sink able to use, store or removethe sugar.

Phloem sap is mainly water and sucrose, but other sugars, hormonesand amino acids are also transported or translocated through phloem.

11.6.1 The Pressure Flow or Mass Flow Hypothesis

The accepted mechanism used for the translocation of sugars from sourceto sink is called the pressure flow hypothesis. (see Figure 11.10). Asglucose is prepared at the source (by photosynthesis) it is converted tosucrose (a dissacharide). The sugar is then moved in the form of sucroseinto the companion cells and then into the living phloem sieve tube cellsby active transport. This process of loading at the source produces ahypertonic condition in the phloem. Water in the adjacent xylem movesinto the phloem by osmosis. As osmotic pressure builds up the phloemsap will move to areas of lower pressure. At the sink osmotic pressuremust be reduced. Again active transport is necessary to move the sucroseout of the phloem sap and into the cells which will use the sugar –converting it into energy, starch, or cellulose. As sugars are removed, theosmotic pressure decreases and water moves out of the phloem.To summarise, the movement of sugars in the phloem begins at thesource, where sugars are loaded (actively transported) into a sieve tube.Loading of the phloem sets up a water potential gradient that facilitatesthe mass movement in the phloem.

Phloem tissue is composed of sieve tube cells, which form long columnswith holes in their end walls called sieve plates. Cytoplasmic strands passthrough the holes in the sieve plates, so forming continuous filaments. Ashydrostatic pressure in the phloem sieve tube increases, pressure flowbegins, and the sap moves through the phloem. Meanwhile, at the sink,incoming sugars are actively transported out of the phloem and removed
NCERT Class XI Biology: Chapter 11   Transport in Plants

as complex carbohydrates. The loss of solute produces a high waterpotential in the phloem, and water passes out, returning eventually to xylem.A simple experiment, called girdling, was used to identify the tissuesthrough which food is transported. On the trunk of a tree a ring of barkup to a depth of the phloem layer, can be carefully removed. In the absenceof downward movement of food the portion of the bark above the ring onthe stem becomes swollen after a few weeks. This simple experimentshows that phloem is the tissue responsible for translocation of food; andthat transport takes place in one direction, i.e., towards the roots. Thisexperiment can be performed by you easily.


Plants obtain a variety of inorganic elements (ions) and salts from theirsurroundings especially from water and soil. The movement of these nutrientsfrom environment into the plant as well as from one plant cell to another plant cellessentially involves movement across a cell membrane. Transport across cellmembrane can be through diffusion, facilitated transport or active transport. Waterand minerals absorbed by roots are transported by xylem and the organic materialsynthesised in the leaves is transported to other parts of plant through phloem.Passive transport (diffusion, osmosis) and active transport are the two modesof nutrient transport across cell membranes in living organisms. In passivetransport, nutrients move across the membrane by diffusion, without any use ofenergy as it is always down the concentration gradient and hence entropy driven.This diffusion of substances depends on their size, solubility in water or organicsolvents. Osmosis is the special type of diffusion of water across a semi-permeablemembrane which depends on pressure gradient and concentration gradient. Inactive transport, energy in the form of ATP is utilised to pump molecules againsta concentration gradient across membranes. Water potential is the potential energyof water which helps in the movement of water. It is determined by solute potentialand pressure potential. The behaviour of the cells depends on the surroundingsolution. If the surrounding solution of the cell is hypertonic, it gets plasmolysed.The absorption of water by seeds and drywood takes place by a special type ofdiffusion called imbibition.

In higher plants, there is a vascular system, xylem and phloem, responsiblefor translocation. Water minerals and food cannot be moved within the body of aplant by diffusion alone. They are therefore, transported by a mass flow system –movement of substance in bulk from one point to another as a result of pressuredifferences between the two points.

Water absorbed by root hairs moves deeper into the root by two distinctpathways, i.e., apoplast and symplast. Various ions, and water from soil can betransported upto a small height in stems by root pressure. Transpiration pullmodel is the most acceptable to explain the transport of water. Transpiration is the loss of water in the form of vapours from the plant parts through stomata.Temperature, light, humidity, wind speed and number of stomata affect the rateof transpiration. Excess water is also removed through tips of leaves of plants byguttation.

Phloem is responsible for transport of food (primarily) sucrose from the sourceto the sink. The translocation in phloem is bi-directional; the source-sinkrelationship is variable. The translocation in phloem is explained by the pressureflowhypothesis.


1. What are the factors affecting the rate of diffusion?

2. What are porins? What role do they play in diffusion?

3. Describe the role played by protein pumps during active transport in plants.

4. Explain why pure water has the maximum water potential.

5. Differentiate between the following:

(a) Diffusion and Osmosis

(b) Transpiration and Evaporation

(c) Osmotic Pressure and Osmotic Potential

(d) Imbibition and Diffusion

(e) Apoplast and Symplast pathways of movement of water in plants.

(f) Guttation and Transpiration.

6. Briefly describe water potential. What are the factors affecting it?

7. What happens when a pressure greater than the atmospheric pressure is appliedto pure water or a solution?

8. (a) With the help of well-labelled diagrams, describe the process of plasmolysisin plants, giving appropriate examples.

(b) Explain what will happen to a plant cell if it is kept in a solution havinghigher water potential.

9. How is the mycorrhizal association helpful in absorption of water and mineralsin plants?

10. What role does root pressure play in water movement in plants?

11. Describe transpiration pull model of water transport in plants. What are thefactors influencing transpiration? How is it useful to plants?

12. Discuss the factors responsible for ascent of xylem sap in plants.

13. What essential role does the root endodermis play during mineral absorption inplants?

14. Explain why xylem transport is unidirectional and phloem transportbi-directional.

15. Explain pressure flow hypothesis of translocation of sugars in plants.

16. What causes the opening and closing of guard cells of stomata duringtranspiration?

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