In plant science, secondary growth refers to the growth that results from cell division in the cambia or lateral meristems and that causes the stems and roots to thicken, while primary growth is growth that occurs as a result of cell division at the tips of stems and roots, causing them to elongate, and gives rise to primary tissue. Secondary growth occurs in most seed plants, but monocots usually lack secondary growth. If they do have secondary growth, it differs from the typical pattern of other seed plants.
In many vascular plants, secondary growth is the result of the activity of the two lateral meristems, the cork cambium and vascular cambium. Arising from lateral meristems, secondary growth increases the girth of the plant root or stem, rather than its length. As long as the lateral meristems continue to produce new cells, the stem or root will continue to grow in diameter. In woody plants, this process produces wood, and shapes the plant into a tree with a thickened trunk.
Because this growth usually ruptures the epidermis of the stem or roots, plants with secondary growth usually also develop a cork cambium. The cork cambium gives rise to thickened cork cells to protect the surface of the plant and reduce water loss. If this is kept up over many years, this process may produce a layer of cork. In the case of the cork oak it will yield harvestable cork.
In nonwoody plants
Abnormal secondary growth
Abnormal secondary growth does not follow the pattern of a single vascular cambium producing xylem to the inside and phloem to the outside. Some dicots have anomalous secondary growth, e.g. in Bougainvillea a series of cambia arise outside the oldest phloem.
Most monocots either have no secondary growth or else anomalous secondary growth of some type. For example, palm trees increase their trunk diameter due to division and enlargement of parenchyma cells, which is termed diffuse secondary growth. In some other monocot stems with anomalous secondary growth, a cambium forms, but it produces vascular bundles and parenchyma internally and just parenchyma externally. Some monocot stems increase in diameter due to the activity of a primary thickening meristem, which is derived from the apical meristem. The Euglossa hyacinthina is one species that builds their nests on the apical meristem.
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- Esau, K. 1977. Anatomy of Seed Plants. New York: Wiley
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