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Plant Characteristics

Provides a basic introduction to plants and their characteristics.

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Plant Characteristics

What are Plants?

Autumn or Fall. A time when leaves turn amazing colors. Of course, leaves are part of plants. But what are plants? What separates a plant from a fungus or protist? Or animal?

What are Plants? A summary.

Plants are multicellular (made of many cells), eukaryotic organisms with cell walls. They are different from animal cells because animal cells do not have cell walls.  Plant cells also have chloroplasts, which allow them to make their own food (or energy)  during a process called photosynthesis. You may not know this, but plants also reproduce sexually!  This means that plants have male parts and female parts.  The male parts of a plant make sperm, and the female parts make an egg.  When a sperm and an egg meet, they are able to make new offspring.  This is how many plants reproduce.

How Do Plants Get Food?

Almost all plants make their food by photosynthesis. Only about 1 percent of all plants have lost the ability to do photosynthesis. Some of these plants are predators. How do plants prey on other organisms? The Venus fly trap in Figure 1below shows one way this occurs.

Venus fly trap plants use their flowers to trap insects. The flowers secrete enzymes that digest the insects, and then they absorb the resulting nutrient molecules.

What Do Plants Need?

Plants need temperatures above freezing while they are actively growing and doing photosynthesis. They also need sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water for photosynthesis. Like most other organisms, plants need oxygen too!  Most plants grow above the ground with stiff stems in order to get light, carbon dioxide, and oxygen. Most plants also grow roots down into the soil to absorb water and minerals. And, of course, we need the energy stored in plants through photosynthesis to survive. Life as we know it would not be possible without plants.

Different Types of Plants


  • cell wall: Rigid layer that surrounds the plant cell; helps support and protect the cell; also characteristic of many prokaryotes.
  • chloroplast: Organelle in the cells of plants and algae that does photosynthesis.
  • photosynthesis: Process of using the energy in sunlight to make food (sugar or glucose).


  • Plants are multicellular eukaryotes. They have organelles called chloroplasts and cell walls made of cellulose.
  • Plants also have specialized reproductive organs.
  • Almost all plants make food by photosynthesis.
  • Life as we know it would not be possible without plants.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  • http://www.hippocampus.org/Biology \begin{align*}\rightarrow\end{align*} Non-Majors Biology \begin{align*}\rightarrow\end{align*} Search: Plants
  1. Why would life on land be nearly impossible without plants?
  2. List three characteristics of plants.
  3. Plants are descendants of that common ancestor?
  4. What is the role of a sporophyte?
  5. What is the role of a gametophyte?


1. What traits do all plants share?

2. What do plants need?

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