Plant cells, in addition to the plasma membrane, have another rigid outer covering called the cell wall. The cell wall lies outside the plasma membrane. The plant cell wall is mainly composed of cellulose. Cellulose is a complex substance and provides structural strength to plants.
When a living plant cell loses water through osmosis there is shrinkage or contraction of the contents of the cell away from the cell wall. This phenomenon is known as plasmolysis. We can observe this phenomenon by performing the following activity:
It appears that only living cells, and not dead cells, are able to absorb water by osmosis.
Cell walls permit the cells of plants, fungi and bacteria to withstand very dilute (hypotonic) external media without bursting.
In such media the cells tend to take up water by osmosis. The cell swells, building up pressure against the cell wall. The wall exerts an equal pressure against the swollen cell. Because of their walls, such cells can withstand much greater changes in the surrounding medium than animal cells.