Cell Wall – What’s it for?
Cell wall diagram While cell membranes might be around every cell, cell walls made of cellulose are only found around plant cells. Cell walls are made of specialized sugars called cellulose. Cellulose provides a protected framework for a plant cell to survive. It’s like taking a water balloon and putting it in a cardboard box. The balloon is protected from the outside world. Cellulose is called a structural carbohydrate (complex sugar) because it is used in protection and support.
Cell walls also help a plant keep its shape. While they do protect the cells, cell walls and cellulose also allow plants to grow to great heights. While you have a skeleton to hold you up, a 100-foot tall redwood tree does not. It uses the strong cell walls to maintain its shape. For smaller plants, cell walls are slightly elastic. Wind can push them over and then they bounce back. Big redwoods need strength in high winds and sway very little (except at the top).
Another Hole in the Wall
Holes in the cell wall A cell wall is not a fortress around the delicate plant cell. There are small holes in the wall that let nutrients, waste, and ions pass through. Those holes are called plasmodesmata. These holes have a problem: water can also be lost. But even when the plant cell loses water, the basic shape is maintained by the cell walls. So if a plant is drooping because it needs water, it can recover when water is added. It will look just the same as when it started.
More Than Walls in Plants
You may hear about cell walls in other areas of biology. Bacteria also have a structure called a cell wall. Fungi and some ptotozoa also have cell walls. They are not the same. Only plant cell walls are made out of cellulose. The other walls might be made from proteins or a substance called chitin. They all serve the same purpose of protecting and maintaining structure, but they are very different molecules.
Cell walls in more details: