In order to carry on photosynthesis, green plants need a supply of carbon dioxide and a means of disposing of oxygen. In order to carry on cellular respiration, plant cells need oxygen and a means of disposing of carbon dioxide (just as animal cells do). Unlike animals, plants have no specialized organs for gas exchange. The are several reasons they can get along without them.
Each part of the plant takes care of its own gas exchange needs. Although plants have an elaborate liquid transport system, it does not participate in gas transport. Roots, stems, and leaves respire at rates much lower than are characteristic of animals. Only during photosynthesis are large volumes of gases exchanged and each leaf is well adapted to take care of its own needs. The distance that gases must diffuse in even a large plant is not great. Each living cell in the plant is located close to the surface. While obvious for leaves, it is also true for stems. The only living cells in the stem are organized in thin layers just beneath the bark. The cells in the interior are dead and serve only to provide mechanical support. Most of the living cells in a plant have at least part of their surface exposed to air. The loose packing of parenchyma cells in leaves, stems, and roots provides an interconnecting system of air spaces. Gases diffuse through air several thousand times faster than through water. Once oxygen and carbon dioxide reach the network of intercellular air spaces, they diffuse rapidly through them.
The exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the leaf (as well as the loss of water vapor in transpiration) occurs through pores called stomata (singular = stoma). Normally stomata open when the light strikes the leaf in the morning and close during the night. The immediate cause is a change in the turgor of the guard cells. The inner wall of each guard cell is thick and elastic. When turgor develops within the two guard cells flanking each stoma, the thin outer walls bulge out and force the inner walls into a crescent shape. This opens the stoma. When the guard cells lose turgor, the elastic inner walls regain their original shape and the stoma closes.
Woody stems and mature roots are sheathed in layers of dead cork cells impregnated with suberin - a waxy, waterproof (and airproof) substance. So cork is as impervious to oxygen and carbon dioxide as it is to water. However, the cork of both mature roots and woody stems is perforated by nonsuberized pores called lenticels. These
enable oxygen to reach the intercellular spaces of the interior tissues and carbon dioxide to be released to the atmosphere. In many annual plants, the stems are green and almost as important for photosynthesis as the leaves. These stems use
stomata rather than lenticels for gas exchange.