Sclerenchyma

From Academic Kids

Sclerenchyma is a supporting tissue. Two groups of sclerenchyma cells exist: fibres and sclereids. Their walls consist of cellulose and/or lignin. Sclerenchyma cells are the principal supporting cells in plant tissues that have ceased elongation. Sclerenchyma fibres are of great economical importance, since they constitute the source material for many fabrics (flax, hemp, jute, ramie).

Unlike the collenchyma, mature sclerenchyma is composed of dead cells with extremely thick cell walls (secondary walls) that make up to 90% of the whole cell volume. The term "sclerenchyma" is derived from the Greek "scleros", meaning "hard". It is their hard, thick walls that make sclerenchyma cells important strengthening and supporting elements in plant parts that have ceased elongation. The difference between fibres and sclereids is not always clear. Transitions do exist, sometimes even within one and the same plant.

Fibres are generally long, slender, so-called prosenchymatous cells, usually occurring in strands or bundles. Such bundles or the totality of a stem's bundles are colloquially called fibres. Their high load-bearing capacity and the ease with which they can be processed has since antiquity made them the source material for a number of things, like ropes, fabrics or mattresses. The fibres of flax (Linum usitatissimum) have been known in Europe and Egypt since more than 3000 years, those of hemp (Cannabis sativa) in China for just as long. These fibres, and those of jute (Corchorus capsularis) and ramie (Boehmeria nivea, a nettle), are extremely soft and elastic and are especially well suited for the processing to textiles. Their principal cell wall material is cellulose.

Contrasting are hard fibres that are mostly found in monocots. Typical examples are the fibres of many Gramineae, Agaves (sisal: Agave sisalana), lilies (Yucca or Phormium tenax), Musa textilis and others. Their cell walls harbour, besides cellulose, a high proportion of lignin. The load-bearing capacity of Phormium tenax is as high as 20-25 kg/mm2 and is thus the same as that of good steel wire (25 kg/ mm2). But the fibre tears as soon as it is put too great a strain on it, while the wire distorts and tears not before a strain of 80 kg/mm2. The thickening of a cell wall has been studied in Linum. Starting at the centre of the fibre are the thickening layers of the secondary wall deposited one after the other. Growth at both tips of the cell leads to simultaneous elongation. During development do the layers of secondary material seem like tubes, of which the outer one is always longer and older than the next. After completion of growth the missing parts are supplemented, so that the wall is evenly thickened up to the tips of the fibres.

Fibres stem usually from meristematic tissues. Cambium and procambium are their main centers of production. They are often associated with the xylem of the vascular bundles. The fibres of the xylem are always lignified. Reliable evidence for the fibre cells' evolutionary origin of tracheids exists. During evolution the strength of the cell walls was enhanced, the ability to conduct water was lost and the size of the pits reduced. Fibres that do not belong to the xylem are bast (outside the ring of cambium) and such fibres that are arranged in characteristic patterns at different sites of the shoot.

Sclereids are variable in shape. The cells can be isodiametric, prosenchymatic, forked or fantastically branched. They can be grouped into bundles, can form complete tubes located at the periphery or can occur as single cells or small groups of cells within parenchyma tissues. But compared with most fibres sclereids are relatively short. Characteristic examples are the stone cells (called stone cells because of their hardness) of pears (Pyrus communis) and quinces (Cydonia oblonga) and those of the shoot of the wax plant (Hoya carnosa). The cell walls fill nearly all the cell's volume. A layering of the walls and the existence of branched pits is clearly visible. Branched pits such as these are called ramiform pits. The shell of many seeds like those of nuts as well as the stones of drupes like cherries or plums are made up from sclereids.

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