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A common mistake that many people assume is that an increase in size means an increase in growth. This is not the case. Growth is the irreversible increase of cell number, and essentially its dry mass. This is because “fresh mass” is an inaccurate indicator because water levels in organisms fluctuate at different points in their life cycle.
Plant growth occurs in areas called meristems, which are the site of repeated cell division of unspecialized cells. These cells differentiate and become specialized in relation to the function they will perform.
There are two types of meristems: lateral and apical.
Apical meristems are the site of primary growth in a plant and can be found at the root and shoot tips. Here you can find unspecialized cells, which undergo the following sequence to become a functional part of the plant
Lateral meristems coincidentally can be found growing laterally to the plant, they grow out the side of it. Lateral meristems are responsible for secondary thickening, which is required by perennial plants that grow year after year, and need the structural support to continue doing so.
The cambium completes rings for each successive growth, meaning the plant grows wider in girth. The larger the plant, the wider the girth will be required to support the plant upright. This cambium tissue continues to grow outwards forming layer upon layer of new living mass. On the outer layer of the plant, cork cambium forms to provide protection against pathogens.
New layers formed also form vascular bundles consisting of phloem and xylem, which will aid in transporting resources around the plant such as water and minerals. Unspecialized cells called parenchyma form the medullary rays that reach out laterally across a plant and are present for the transport of water to the outer regions.
As the continually growing outer layer expands, small gaps in the cambium called lenticels are found to assist gaseous exchange in the plant. Essentially, minerals and water come from the inner areas for the cambium and required gas (CO2) comes from the immediate external environment.
This repeated lateral growth gives rise to the question of why the age of a tree can be defined by rings formed by the cambium growth
In Summer, the growth mentioned above can be executed much faster by the plant. There are a number of reasons for this
Due to these favorable conditions, cambium is at its most active state, and therefore this is when the most growth occurs. Cells are visible more developed, more elongated, etc.
The opposite occurs in winter when conditions are less favorable, and therefore cell growth occurs over a smaller volume of area. These condensed areas of growth appear like rings to the human eye. This is how humans can tell its age due to the apparent age of the tree being deduced from the number of winters that the cambium has grown.
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