Plant Cells vs. Animal Cells, With Diagrams

Cells have often been referred to as "the building blocks of life", which indeed they are. All forms of life, from simple bacteria to human beings, are made up of cells. What is remarkable is that, despite their apparent differences, plant and animal life are made up of cells that are actually the same in most respects.

The most important structures of plant and animal cells are shown in the diagrams below, which provide a clear illustration of how much these cells have in common. The significant differences between plant and animal cells are also shown. The diagrams are followed by more in-depth information.


The structures within the cell, such as the nucleus and mitochondria, are known as organelles. The diagram above is of a "generic" animal cell. In both animals and plants, cells generally become specialized to perform certain functions. Nerve cells, bone cells and liver cells, for example, all develop in ways that enable them to better perform their specific duties. Most animal cells, however, contain the structures shown in the diagram.

Below is a "generic" plant cell diagram. The structure of plant cells can vary during the early stages of growth. This diagram depicts a mature plant cell.


Eukaryotic Cells

Eukaryotic cells are cells that contain a well-defined nucleus, and in which the other organelles are held together by membranes. Plants and animals are both eukaryotes, and as you can see, their cells are quite similar in many ways. Organelles that can be found in both plant and animal cells include the following:

  • Cell Membrane: surrounds and protects the contents of the cell. The membrane is selectively permeable, meaning that it allows certain molecules to pass through it and enter the cell, while preventing others from doing so.
  • Cytoplasm: the fluid which fills the cell, in which the organelles are suspended.
  • Nucleus: the cell's command center, regulating the various processes within the cell. The nucleus, which also contains most of the cell's genetic material, is usually located near the center of animal cells, and closer to the edge in plants.
  • Mitochondria: converts food into energy. Active cells, which require more energy, usually contain a greater number of mitochondria. Plant cells tend to have fewer mitochondria than animal cells. Mitochondria also contain a small amount of DNA, and therefore play a role in genetics.
  • Ribosomes: generate proteins from amino acids. Some ribosomes are attached to the endoplasmic reticulum, others float freely within the cytoplasm.
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum: a series of sacs and tubes used to process substances such as protein and lipids, and transport them to the golgi bodies for distribution to other locations. The area where ribosomes are attached is called the rough endoplasmic reticulum. The area without ribosomes is known as the smooth endoplasmic reticulum.
  • Golgi Bodies: location where substances received from the endoplasmic reticulum are processed and carried to the proper location within the cell, or out of the cell altogether.
  • Vacuoles: sacs which serve as storage units. When found in animal cells, vacuoles are tiny, and are used to carry substances out of the cell, or to engulf undesirable substances such as bacteria or bits of dead tissue. In plant cells, the vacuole plays a much larger role, which is described in the section below.

Primary Differences Between Plant and Animal Cells

Plant cells have to perform two functions not required of animal cells:

  1. Produce their own food (which they do in a process called photosynthesis).
  2. Support their own weight (which animals usually do by means of a skeleton).

The structures possessed by plant cells for performing these two functions create the primary differences between plant and animals cells. These structures are:

  • Cell Wall: a wall on the outside of the membrane, which, in combination with the vacuole (as described below), helps the cell maintain its shape and rigidity.
  • Plastids: used in photosynthesis to convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into food. The most well-known plastids are chloroplasts, which contain the chlorophyll that gives many plants their green hue.
  • Large Vacuole: while animal cells may have many tiny vacuoles, a plant cell usually has a single large vacuole, which serves as a storage tank for food, water, waste products and other materials. The vacuole has an important structural function, as well. When filled with water, the vacuole exerts internal pressure against the cell wall, which helps keep the cell rigid. A plant that is wilting has vacuoles that are no longer filled with water.


Animal cells contain organelles known as centrioles, which are not present in plant cells. Centrioles, which help move chromosomes during cell division, are generally only visible when an animal cell is actually dividing.

It is believed that because animal cells, which are softer than plant cells, can change shape, centrioles are required to ensure that the chromosomes are in the proper location when the cell divides. Plant cells, with their more fixed shape, can safely assume that the chromosomes are correctly positioned without the use of such a mechanism.

Plants and Animals: Common Ancestor

How is it that plant and animal cells have so much in common? As hard as it may be to imagine, biologists believe that at an early point in the evolution of life on earth, plants and animals once shared a common ancestor. All life on earth, it seems, truly is related.


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Comments 42 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

HaHa...I taught this in middle school...I thought I was back in the classroom preparing my lesson. Well done my friend!

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

Thanks billybuc. The topic has always been an interest of mine, but it's nice to get thumbs up from someone that's actually taught the subject.

Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Glen, Wonderful diagrams. So clear and informative. What an excellent source for any grade 8 or 9 biology teacher. Voted way up!!!!

PWalker281 4 years ago

Your diagrams make this biology lesson come alive! Voted up and across!

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

Teresa - biology students, about grade 8 or 9, was actually the group I had in mind when I created this hub. I figured that would be the group most likely looking for information at this level.

PWalker281 - I'm glad the diagrams are working. It was a trade-off between how much information to include vs being able to actually read the diagrams at the size they're shown at in the hub.

Thanks to both of you for the comments and feedback.

krizha inocencio 4 years ago

what are the combination between plants and animal cells?

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

Hi krizha,

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm not sure I understand your question. Do you mean: what do plant and animal cells have in common? The diagrams have an asterisk (*) beside the structures that are unique to either plant or animal cells. All of the other structures are present in both. Hope that helps.

frseza 4 years ago

it really helps thx

Tyler 4 years ago

^do they both have dna

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

Tyler, yes, plants and animal cells both have DNA. Most of it is contained in the nucleus, with a small amount in the mitochondria.

:] 4 years ago

i see no diagram!

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

You should be able to see 2 diagrams. Have you tried refreshing the page in your browser?

sara 3 years ago

its great what information i needed is mentioned here

... 3 years ago

Thanks it help me do my homework for science in 7 grade

Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)


What a well-written, well-researched article! I'm sorry I missed it when you first published it, my friend. Your diagrams make the subject so much easier to understand.

I'm sharing your article with my followers, posting a link on Google+, and tweeting it.

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 3 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

Thanks so much, Daisy. Don't apologize for not seeing this one sooner. You've been very supportive of my writing here at HubPages and I really appreciate it!

Biology Exam profile image

Biology Exam 3 years ago

Well written hub.

sohaib 3 years ago

that's great information for my test iam student of level 8


Priyanka 3 years ago

It is really awesome nd helpful to me ..better than our class..awsomee one..

john 3 years ago


hunter 3 years ago

im only in 7th grade and this helped me a hell lot more then my teache

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 3 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

I'm glad to hear that people are finding this information to be helpful.

JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

JYOTI KOTHARI 2 years ago from Jaipur

Interesting information. It will especially help students learning biology. Rated up and interesting.

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 2 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

Thanks for the support Jyoti. Glad you found the hub interesting.

feri 2 years ago

very nice explanation it's very easy to learn thing by diagram but i have a doubtful question please answer this what is difference between plant andanimal cell? (a)growth (b)respiration (c)locomotion (d)nutrition i can't understand the bcz answer is (d) what is the reason bcz a,b,c, is also differenciate

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 2 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

feri, that's a very good question. There are many details to the answer, and I may write another hub to give a more complete answer, but in short: plant and animal cells are both eukaryotes, and the processes of growth, respiration and locomotion are quite similar in all eukaryotic cells. The means by which plant and animal cells acquire nutrients (photosynthesis vs eating) are very different, however.

A common problem is to confuse respiration with photosynthesis. As you know, the process of photosynthesis in plants takes in CO2 and releases oxygen, the opposite of what animals do when they breathe. But plants, like animals, also have a respiration process, in which oxygen goes in and CO2 comes out.

sriramapriya profile image

sriramapriya 23 months ago from India

Use full information for students from for classes 7th to +2. and also every one who are touch with Biology. Am a Biology teacher n Trainer, in textbook we will some information. by reading this article we can get to know more. difference between eukaryotic and prokaryotic and also difference between plant cell and animal cell. important questions in every exam in India, Andhra Pradesh.

Tobi Ismail 20 months ago

Well comprehensive article, met my need and I am satisfied. Everything discussed is accurate and precise. Thank you

Aimee-jo Smith 19 months ago

Thanks for all this useful information most of it was confusing to me even tough I am in 12 grade

the rawspirit profile image

the rawspirit 18 months ago from Hutchinson Island, FL - Aruba - Carlsbad, CA - Myrtle Beach, SC - Gilbert, AZ

Very nice. I will use some of your information in a presentation I will be making to a group in the near future. Its basic and it right on. Thanks for doing your research.

Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 18 months ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts Author

Thanks rawspirit! I'm glad you found the hub useful, and I hope your presentation went well.

the rawspirit profile image

the rawspirit 18 months ago from Hutchinson Island, FL - Aruba - Carlsbad, CA - Myrtle Beach, SC - Gilbert, AZ

Thanks again, for the article. Your research really came in handy.

KaurNirlep 15 months ago

Really its soooo good .It seemed to be a boring and confusing chapter but u just made it much easier

melody 15 months ago

this really helps. thanks a lot. peace out

Nathan 14 months ago

I had homework on this and i went to this page and I did all my homework done like that so thanks so much. I fI didn't go to this page i would of have to go on to many different other pages so thanks.

Dharmzy 14 months ago

That was a gud article....keep it up hub....thumb up

Princess 4 months ago

When we are asked to discuss in our biology class, it's really the best discussion because of this. ...

Thanks, it really helps....

Keziah 2 months ago

thanks i've done my homework because of this thank you so much

:)// 2 months ago

i love this it helped me do my homework for 7th grade science thank you

:D 2 months ago

i love this thing, it helped me do my homework when i was late on finishing it THANK YOU!!

Musquan 8 weeks ago

Thanks soooo much I was worried I wouldn't find the information but thanks to you I finished my homework

Totallyawesome 8 weeks ago

helped me finish homework due! you are so cool

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