A few layers of cells form the basic packing tissue. This tissue is parenchyma, a type of permanent tissue. It consists of relatively unspecialised cells with thin cell walls. They are live cells. They are usually loosely packed, so that large spaces between cells (intercellular spaces) are found in this tissue [Fig.4 a(i)]. This tissue provides support to plants and also stores food. In some situations, it contains chlorophyll and performs photosynthesis, and then it is called chlorenchyma. In aquatic plants, large air cavities are present in parenchyma to give buoyancy to the plants to help them float. Such a parenchyma type is called aerenchyma.
The parenchyma of stems and roots also stores nutrients and water.
The flexibility in plants is due to another permanent tissue, collenchyma. It allows easy bending in various parts of a plant (leaf, stem) without breaking. It also provides mechanical support to plants. We can find this tissue in leaf stalks below the epidermis. The cells of this tissue are living, elongated and irregularly thickened at the corners. There is very little intercellular space (Fig.4 b).
Yet another type of permanent tissue is sclerenchyma. It is the tissue which makes the plant hard and stiff. We have seen the husk of a coconut. It is made of sclerenchymatous tissue. The cells of this tissue are dead. They are long and narrow as the walls are thickened due to lignin (a chemical substance which acts as cement and hardens them). Often these walls are so thick that there is no internal space inside the cell (Fig. 4 c). This tissue is present in stems, around vascular bundles, in the veins of leaves and in the hard covering of seeds and nuts. It provides strength to the plant parts.
The epidermis is usually made of a single layer of cells. In some plants living in very dry habitats, the epidermis may be thicker since protection against water loss is critical. The entire surface of a plant has this outer covering of epidermis. It protects all the parts of the plant. Epidermal cells on the aerial parts of the plant often secrete a waxy, water-resistant layer on their outer surface. This aids in protection against loss of water, mechanical injury and invasion by parasitic fungi. Since, it has a protective role to play, cells of epidermal tissue form a continuous layer without intercellular spaces. Most epidermal cells are relatively flat. Often their outer and side walls are thicker than the inner wall.
We can observe small pores here and there in the epidermis of the leaf. These pores are called stomata (Fig.5). Stomata are enclosed by two kidney-shaped cells called guard cells. They are necessary for exchanging gases with the atmosphere. Transpiration (loss of water in the form of water vapour) also takes place through stomata.
Epidermal cells of the roots, whose function is water absorption, commonly bear long hair-like parts that greatly increase the total absorptive surface area. In some plants like desert plants, epidermis has a thick waxy coating of cutin (chemical substance with waterproof quality) on its outer surface.
As plants grow older, the outer protective tissue undergoes certain changes. A strip of secondary meristem replaces the epidermis of the stem. Cells on the outside are cut off from this layer. This forms the several-layer thick cork or the bark of the tree. Cells of cork are dead and compactly arranged without intercellular spaces (Fig. 6). They also have a chemical called suberin in their walls that makes them impervious to gases and water.