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7.1: Plant Characteristics

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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What is this?

You may be surprised that this is a picture of plants. They look a little like stones. In fact, these plants are often called "living stones." Organisms don't need to have big green leaves to be considered plants. What do you think distinguishes plants from other organisms?

What are Plants?

Plants have adapted to a variety of environments, from the desert to the tropical rain forest to lakes and oceans. In each environment, plants have become crucial to supporting animal life. Plants are the food that animals eat. Plants also provide places for animals, such as insects and birds, to live; many birds build nests in plants. From tiny mosses to gorgeous rose bushes to extremely large redwood trees (Figure below), the organisms in this kingdom, Kingdom Plantae, have three main features. They are all:

  1. Eukaryotic.
  2. Photosynthetic.
  3. Multicellular.

Recall that eukaryotic organisms also include animals, protists, and fungi. Eukaryotes have cells with nuclei that contain DNA, and membrane-bound organelles, such as mitochondria. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants capture the energy of sunlight and use carbon dioxide from the air (and water) to make their own food, the carbohydrate glucose. Plants have chloroplasts, the organelle of photosynthesis, and are known as producers and autotrophs. Other organisms are heterotrophic consumers, meaning they must obtain their nutrients from another organism, as these organisms lack chloroplasts. Lastly, plants must be multicellular, composed of more than one cell. There are no single-celled plants. Recall that some protists, such as algae, are eukaryotic and photosynthetic but are not considered plants. Unlike plants, algae is mostly unicellular. 

Mosses and trees are all part of the plant kingdom

There is great diversity in the plant kingdom, from tiny mosses to huge trees.


  • Plants are multicellular and eukaryotic, meaning their cells have a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles.
  • Plants perform photosynthesis, the process by which plants capture the energy of sunlight and use carbon dioxide from the air to make their own food.

Explore More

Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What three characteristics do all plants share?
  2. What is the role of they plant cell wall?
  3. What allows for photosynthesis in the plant cell?
  4. What is the main difference between a sporophyte and a gametophyte?


  1. If a fern is a plant, then what are three characteristics you know to be true about ferns?
  2. Mushrooms gain their energy from decomposing dead organisms. Explain why a mushroom is not a plant.
  3. What is the organelle of photosynthesis?
  4. Describe the relationship between producers and autotrophs.




Organism that produces complex organic compounds from simple inorganic molecules using a source of energy such as sunlight.


Having cells that contain a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles.


Process of using the sun's energy to make food in the form of glucose.


Organism that produces food, such as glucose, for itself and other organisms.

Image Attributions


Difficulty Level:

At Grade


7 , 8

Date Created:

Nov 29, 2012

Last Modified:

Jan 30, 2016
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