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Plant disease: 2. A plant's natural physical and mechanical defences against diseases and animals

Doc Brown's Biology exam study revision notes

There are various sections to work through, after 1 they can be read and studied in any order.

INDEX of Plant Disease Notes

(2) A plant's natural physical and mechanical defences against diseases

Physical defences rely on barriers preventing pathogens from getting into undamaged plants.

The leaves and stems of most plants have an outermost waxy cuticle layer of the covering that acts as a barrier to inhibit pathogens entering or pests from getting through the epidermis and damaging the leaves or stem.

The tough waxy cuticle also stops water accumulating on the leaves, so reducing infection by pathogens that are transferred between plants via water.

(Note: The waxy cuticle also prevents excessive loss of water from the leaves - it reduces the rate of evaporation so the plant does not become dehydrated.)

Unlike animal cells, plant cells have a stronger cell wall made of cellulose.

This acts as a physical barrier against intrusion by a pathogens that get through the waxy cuticle.

If pathogens do get past these physical defences, their presence can trigger the cell to produce a chemical called callose. The callose is deposited between the plant cell walls and the inner cell membranes to reinforce the cell wall.

Around their stems, plants have layers of dead cells that acts as a physical barrier to pathogens e.g. the bark on trees is he obvious example.

Pests cannot get to the healthy living cells underneath the bark.

Plants show specific adaptations to deter animals from even touching, as well as not eating them.

You might call them mechanical defence systems! e.g.

Thorns and hairs

Thorns will prick insects and deter them from egg laying. The sharp thorns will also deter grazing herbivore animals from munching the plant and maybe wear down their teeth!

Hairs stop larvae from reaching and feeding on the outer epidermis layers of leaves.

Some plant leaves droop or curl when touched by an animal.

When touched, some plants release chemicals that releases water from vacuoles causing cells to collapse and the leaves to curl.

This can help prevent being eaten by having the insects knocked off automatically!

Certain plants can mimic other organisms

e.g. adaptations to inhibit animals like insects from feeding or laying eggs on them.

Mimicry is displayed by the passion flower has bright yellow spots on its leaves that look like butterfly eggs, deterring other butterflies from laying their eggs on the leaves.

Some grasses have evolved anthers that look like aphids and hollyhocks have stem markings that also look like aphids - these visual signals deter aphids from attacking and feeding off the plant.

Some species of plant in the 'ice plant family' in southern Africa look like stones and pebbles, and so don't look very tasty to some predatory animal, so they are far less likely to be eaten!

Keywords, phrases and learning objectives for this part on plant diseases and nutritional deficiency

Be able to describe examples of a plant's natural physical and mechanical defences against diseases and animals including features such as thorns, hairs, tough waxy cuticle coating, mimicking animals and strong cellulose cell walls



INDEX of biology notes on plant diseases


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