Growth and Development

“Development” and “growth” are sometimes used interchangeably in conversation, but in a botanical sense they describe separate events in the organization of the mature plant body.


Development is the progression from earlier to later stages in maturation, e.g. a fertilized egg develops into a mature tree. It is the process whereby tissues, organs, and whole plants are produced. It involves: growthmorphogenesis (the acquisition of form and structure), and differentiation. The interactions of the environment and the genetic instructions inherited by the cells determine how the plant develops.

Growth is the irreversible change in size of cells and plant organs due to both cell division and enlargement. Enlargement necessitates a change in the elasticity of the cell walls together with an increase in the size and water content of the vacuole. Growth can be determinate—when an organ or part or whole organism reaches a certain size and then stops growing—or indeterminate—when cells continue to divide indefinitely. Plants in general have indeterminate growth.

Differentiation is the process in which generalized cells specialize into the morphologically and physiologically different cells described in Table 1 . Since all of the cells produced by division in the meristems have the same genetic make up, differentiation is a function of which particular genes are either expressed orrepressed. The kind of cell that ultimately develops also is a result of its location: Root cells don't form in developing flowers, for example, nor do petals form on roots.

Mature plant cells can be stimulated under certain conditions to divide and differentiate again, i.e. to dedifferentiate. This happens when tissues are wounded, as when branches break or leaves are damaged by insects. The plant repairs itself bydedifferentiating parenchyma cells in the vicinity of the wound, making cells like those injured or else physiologically similar cells.

Plants differ from animals in their manner of growth. As young animals mature, all parts of their bodies grow until they reach a genetically determined size for each species. Plant growth, on the other hand, continues throughout the life span of the plant and is restricted to certain meristematic tissue regions only. This continuous growth results in:

  • Two general groups of tissues, primary and secondary.
  • Two body types, primary and secondary.
  • Apical and lateral meristems.

Apical meristems, or zones of cell division, occur in the tips of both roots and stems of all plants and are responsible for increases in the length of the primary plant body as the primary tissues differentiate from the meristems. As the vacuoles of the primary tissue cells enlarge, the stems and roots increase in girth until a maximum size (determined by the elasticity of their cell walls) is reached. The plant may continue to grow in length, but no longer does it grow in girth. Herbaceous plants with only primary tissues are thus limited to a relatively small size.

Woody plants, on the other hand, can grow to enormous size because of the strengthening and protective secondary tissues produced by lateral meristems, which develop around the periphery of their roots and stems. These tissues constitute the secondary plant body.