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Question Video: Explaining the Changes in Plants Cells When a Plant Wilts Biology

The picture shows a wilted plant. What can be assumed about the cells of this plant?

03:40

Video Transcript

The picture below shows a wilted plant. What can be assumed about the cells of this plant? (A) The stems of the plant have broken and can no longer support the weight of the leaves. (B) Many cells within the plant have died and are no longer multiplying. (C) Many cells within the plant have lost water and are no longer turgid. Or (D) the plant has taken in too much water and its cells have plasmolyzed.

To answer this question, we need to understand how a plant can become wilted, like the one in this picture. To do this, let’s start by taking a look at a typical plant cell when there’s plenty of water available to the plant. When water availability is high outside the plant cell, water molecules move from an area of high water potential outside the cell to an area of comparatively lower water potential inside the cell. Once in the cell, most water is stored in a structure called the vacuole, which swells as it fills with water. This exerts turgor pressure upon the cell membrane of the plant cell, which causes the cell to swell. In this state, the plant cell is described as turgid.

When water availability is low outside the cell, water molecules move from an area of high water potential within the cell’s vacuole to an area of comparatively lower water potential outside the cell. The reduced volume of water in the vacuole reduces the turgor pressure exerted upon the cell membrane, so it pulls away from the cell wall. This causes the cell to reduce in size and appear shrunken and wrinkled. In this state, the cell is described as plasmolyzed. When there are many plasmolyzed cells in plant tissues, the tissues are described as flaccid. This causes the whole plant to wilt. It’s important to note that wilting is usually reversible and if a plant is provided with more water, its cells can become turgid again and vice versa.

Now, let’s review our answer choices to see which is correctly describing what we can assume about the cells of a wilted plant. Answer choice (A) states that the stems have broken, which we can see is clearly not the case. Furthermore, this question asks us what we can assume about the cells of a plant specifically, not about the stem or leaves. Therefore, we can eliminate option (A). Option (B) tells us that many of the cells have died and are no longer multiplying. However, we know that wilting is reversible and does not necessarily indicate that the cells have died. Therefore, we cannot make this assumption about the cells of the wilted plant and can eliminate option (B) as well.

Option (C) states that the cells have lost water and are no longer turgid. This seems to be correct. We now know that when cells lose water, they lose turgidity and can become plasmolyzed. This is what causes tissues to become flaccid when it happens to many cells and eventually causes the plant to wilt. Before we confirm our answer, let’s check the final option is incorrect. Option (D) states that the plant may have taken in too much water, and as a result its cells have plasmolyzed. This is incorrect. We know that plant cells become plasmolyzed when they lose too much water, and this is what causes wilting. So we can eliminate option (D).

Therefore, we’ve worked out the correct answer. The assumption we can make about the cells of the wilted plant is (C), that many cells in the plant have lost water and are no longer turgid.

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