Basics of Plant Cell Biology

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
plant cells up close

Simply put, plant cell biology is the microscopic study of plant cells. It's important to learn the basics of how cells in plants function to understand how plants live in the environment. There are many projects you can do at home that will help you remember specific parts of plant cells, and what they do.

Learning Plant Cell Parts

For older kids who can memorize parts of plant cells, using diagrams and worksheets of plant cell structures and their functions can help them learn what each part of a plant cell looks like, and what its job is.

Materials

  • Labeled plant cell diagram (below)
  • Unlabeled plant cell worksheet (below)
  • List of plant cell parts and their functions

Instructions

Have your child memorize and study the plant cell parts and their functions:

  • Cell wall: A thick rigid membrane that surrounds the cell and protects it

  • Cell membrane: A thin layer inside the cell wall that allows some substances (but not others) into the cell

  • Vacuole: A large, membrane-covered space inside plant cells that helps maintain a cell's shape

  • Nucleus: A round structure in plant cells that contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and controls many cell functions ("brain" or control center of the cell)

  • Nucleolus: Located inside the nucleus and makes ribonucleic acid (RNA)

  • Nuclear membrane: A membrane surrounding the nucleus that helps keep DNA safe

  • Chloroplast: Contains chlorophyll and is where photosynthesis takes place which is when sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide are converted to food energy (starches and sugars), water and oxygen

  • Mitochondria: Converts food to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to produce energy ("powerhouse" of the cell)

  • Cytoplasm: Jellylike material inside cell membrane that holds organelles (other parts of the cell) in place

  • Amyloplast: Present in some plant cells like fruits and starchy vegetables, it stores starch

  • Centrosome: Makes microtubules, helps cells replicate, and divides into more cells

  • Endoplasmic reticulum: Transports materials through cells

  • Ribosomes: Organelles (cell structures) that make proteins

  • Golgi body: Packages and transports proteins and carbohydrates to be exported from cells

Labeled plant cell

Then, use the worksheet without labels to test your knowledge. To print the worksheet, click on the image below. The PDF will open in another window and from there you will have the option to print the sheet. If you need help, see this guide to working with printables.

Lego Plant Cell Model

Making plant cells out of Legos is a fun activity kids of all ages will enjoy. The trick is finding Lego sets that have pieces similar to those in the diagram or mixing and matching various pieces from Lego sets you already have at home.

Materials Needed

  • One large Lego base to attach Legos to
  • 28 square (two-by-two) Legos for the cell wall (preferably green)
  • 22 small rectangle (one-by-two) Legos for the cell membrane
  • Two curved-shaped Legos (forming a circle) for the nucleus
  • One circle-shaped Lego for the nucleolus
  • Two large oval-shaped Legos for mitochondria (pictured in black)
  • Five to seven small cylinder-shaped Legos stacked on top of each other to form the endoplasmic reticulum
  • Four small Legos for the chloroplasts
  • At least three very small circle-shaped Legos for amyloplasts
  • At least three very small ball-shaped pieces for ribosomes
  • Two long Legos (pictured in red) grouped to make the Golgi body
  • 18 small squares or balls arranged to form the vacuole (pictured in black)
  • One small circle-shaped Lego for the centrosome
  • A large flat square or rectangle-shaped Lego base

Instructions

  1. Using a large Lego base, use 28 square Legos to form a square border around the cell. This will make the cell wall.
  2. Place 22 small rectangular Legos just inside cell wall to create cell membrane.
  3. Put two curved Legos in the center of the cell to create the nucleus, with circular-shaped Legos inside for the nucleolus.
  4. Place all other cell structures from the materials list inside of the cell border, (see image.)

Playdough Plant Cell

Kids, especially younger children, will love learning about plant cells when playdough is involved.

Materials Needed

  • One large piece of cardboard to place the playdough cell on
  • Dark green playdough for the cell wall, chloroplasts and mitochondria
  • White playdough for the cell membrane and vacuole
  • Light green playdough for the cytoplasm
  • Pink playdough for the nucleus
  • A small container of blue playdough for the nucleolus
  • Purple playdough for the endoplasmic reticulum and ribosomes
  • Red playdough for the Golgi body

Instructions

  1. Place a flat slab of light green playdough on the cardboard in a large rectangle. This forms the cell cytoplasm.
  2. Use white playdough to make a thin border around the playdough cytoplasm; this represents the cell membrane.
  3. Make an outer border around the cell membrane with dark green playdough to form the cell wall.
  4. Create a flat circle out of pink playdough for the nucleus; place the nucleus on top of the cytoplasm.
  5. Make a small flat circle out of blue playdough and put it on top of the nucleus to form the nucleolus.
  6. Make a large flat oval with white playdough to form a vacuole; place the vacuole on top of cytoplasm.
  7. Form two hollow circles out of dark green playdough to represent mitochondria.
  8. Make two snake-like shapes out of purple playdough to form the endoplasmic reticulum.
  9. Make two solid dark green ovals for chloroplasts.
  10. Create a thin worm-like structure with red playdough for Golgi body.
  11. Make 15 very tiny round balls out of purple playdough to form ribosomes.
  12. Let the playdough cell dry overnight.

Plant Cell Cake

What better way to learn about plant cells, than baking a tasty cake with your kids. The best part about making an edible plant cell is getting to eat this sweet treat.

Materials

  • Ingredients for your favorite cake recipe
  • Rectangle-shaped cake pan
  • 16-ounce container of vanilla frosting
  • Green food coloring
  • Green icing
  • Yellow icing
  • One popcorn ball
  • Five green lifesavers
  • Two red lifesavers
  • Two red fruit roll-ups
  • One green fruit roll-up
  • One piece of chewy caramel

Instructions

  1. Bake your favorite cake as instructed in a rectangle-shaped cake pan.
  2. Mix a few drops of green food coloring in vanilla frosting to create a light-green color.
  3. Frost your cake with the light green frosting to make the cytoplasm.
  4. Create a cake border with green icing to make a cell wall.
  5. Use yellow icing to make a cell membrane right inside the 'cell wall.'
  6. Put the popcorn ball in the center of the cake for the nucleus.
  7. Place red fruit roll-ups next to each other on top of the cake for the endoplasmic reticulum.
  8. Put the green fruit roll-up on top of the cake for the Golgi body.
  9. Place two red lifesavers on the cake for vacuoles.
  10. Put five green lifesavers on the cake to represent chloroplasts.
  11. Place the caramel on top of the cake to be a mitochondrion.

Why Learn About Plant Cells?

Children need to learn about plant cell biology to excel in science at school. Plant science is also a great way to teach kids about the scientific method, and how to properly set up a science log book. With the right activities, your kids will be begging to learn more about plant cells and other science-related topics.

Basics of Plant Cell Biology