It’s hard to get too excited around eating celery, but if you can manage to watch a dip-drenched celery stick as a dynamically loaded cantilevered beam, climate its stringy bits suddenly start to look choose incredible accomplishments of bioengineering. The mildest mannered member of the crudité platter transforms out to it is in a misunderstood superhero.

If you are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, possibilities are good that you have actually a most celery in your prompt future. It mirrors up in dressing and also cranberry relish and especially in leftovers, choose turkey salad sandwiches. As soon as I was growing up, mine sister and also I to be tasked v picking the carcass for turkey hash, which, in our family, was usually turkey soup extended with numerous celery and also potatoes and never enough salt. Although frugal and also nutritious, this one-pot crusade versus food rubbish did not inspire a lifelong love of cooked celery. But you don’t need to like celery the food to admire its change ego, celery the plant.

You are watching: When you are eating a celery stick, you are eating the tissue of a plant.

Leaves, not stems

Celery the food may not excite you, but celery the plant – the bundle of dynamically loaded cantilevered beams – is a biomechanical superhero worth experimenting in the kitchen. Celery (Apium graveolens) is just one of the clearest examples of how a plant’s life in the wild over tens of millions of years yielded anatomical adaptations the determine just how we use it now. Because of its evolutionary responses to biomechanical challenges, the is currently perfectly developed to hold peanut butter or scoop dip, and when sliced, that is crescent moon forms are quite in soup and chopped salads. Top top the various other hand, its difficult strings catch between teeth and are not basic to digest.

Celery stalks room the petioles (“stalks”) of link leaves. They are not stems, regardless of widespread misrepresentation in elementary school lesson plans. They might look choose stems to some people due to the fact that they space thick and fleshy and have influential veins to run lengthwise v them. Yet there are number of morphological hints to their leafy identity, consisting of these:

They are crescent shaped, no circular, in cross-section. In various other words they are bilaterally symmetrical, whereas many (not all) stems room radially symmetrical.Their tips finish in a completely developed level leaflet, conversely, stems space usually topped by a growing allude (an apical meristem) that offers rise come tiny brand-new leaves or flowers.The leafy components are leaflets (the subparts that a link leaf) which carry out not build like separate leaves along a stem.They space arranged in a Fibonacci spiral around a central axis, like numerous leaves. Branching stems deserve to be arranged in a spiral as well, but only since they are closely connected with leaves. If celery stalks were branches, there would certainly a little leaf below each one.

Evidence that celery stalks space petioles, no stems. The image on the left compares fennel come celery. Both become very broad at the basic of the petiole for extr stability.

expertise that a celery stalk is the petiole section of a leaf is useful, and also not simply to score factory pedantry points. Celery petioles are long and also tall frameworks that support the flat photosynthetic component of the leaf. They suffer some downward compressive forces, yet they are mainly subject come bending under their own weight, for this reason in the language of mechanical engineering, castle act prefer cantilevered beams. The weight they bear alters as the pipeline grow and also are buffeted through the wind. Engineers contact this dynamic (vs static) loading. In addition, they might be topic to torsion as the wind twists the leaves side to side. Twisting is much much less dangerous than bending, so the leaf must be able to give in come twisting in bespeak to alleviate the bending forces that might snap it. Every one of these challenges aid explain why celery petioles are scoop shaped and also reinforced with stretchy strings and also how finest to prepare celery in the kitchen.


The strength of a structure counts on both its material composition and its shape. The half-pipe or trough form of a celery petiole makes it much far better at stop peanut butter and also much much more resistant to bending compared to a flatter petiole. This is specifically true as soon as the bending force is far from the facility of the bunch, i m sorry is the condition the leaf would challenge as that grew. That much less complicated to bending a stalk in the direction of the bunch due to the fact that the c-shape the the trough is deformed and flattens out. It loser its special form in the direction.


The basal finish of a celery petiole additionally resists bending. It widens out and also hugs the bottom the the plant to include stability whereby the forces are greatest. Fennel, a close relative, has actually an even more dramatically enlarged sheet base, and also the overlapping leaves kind a “bulb.”

return its built to stand up to bending, a celery petiole can be twisted really easily. Twisting in the wind or throughout growth in ~ the bundle of leaves takes several of the pressures off the the leaf that might otherwise bending it.

The stringy stuff: vascular bundles and also collenchyma

Most people peel celery prior to serving that raw because its long hard strings either record in your teeth or pass v unchewed and also undigested. (A fast Google find reveals the alarm brought about by undigested celery strings, which reportedly look favor hookworms to part people.) but there room actually two various kinds of string, and also using a peeler probably records only the strings lying simply under the surface ar of each narrow longitudinal rib. To avoid postprandial panic, you need to get every one of the strings.

The depths strings space the much less interesting. They room vascular bundles – the strands of sugar-conducting (phloem) and water-conducting (xylem) tissue that occur in basically all tree tissues. The xylem is solid and elastic and will spring ago after it has actually been stretched, but it breaks fairly easily. It is the xylem the stars in those shameful elementary college lesson plans that mislead our impressionable youth around the nature that celery stalks. If you placed a clean-cut leafy celery stalk right into colored water, the dye will move up through the xylem and also highlight the bundles.


click to enlarge

Xylem strands are not straightforward to chew, yet the more shallow strands, do of collenchyma, are 4 or five times harder to break. The stamin of this organization was recorded by among my botanical heroes, Katherine Esau, in 1936, that by all accounts knew what it intended to be tough. After ~ fleeing the Ukraine v her family, whose national politics did not sit fine with neighborhood officials, Esau ongoing her education in Germany and then in California where she made her note as a highly achieved woman scientist in at an early stage 20th century. She lived to be 99 year old.

Collenchyma is really unusual tissue. Unlike numerous tough tissues (xylem, fibers, rock cells) that build stiff walls and then die, collenchyma is lively (even when it’s stuck in your teeth). Its cabinet walls room made of fairly soft cellulose and pectins that deserve to absorb a the majority of water and also act favor a stiff gel (Leroux, 2012). The means these materials interact in the cell wall surface makes collenchyma really plastic – that is, it will certainly stretch fairly easily there is no breaking – however it does no bounce back, so the is not elastic (Niklas, 1992).


Left: close increase of collenchyma cells. One cabinet is outlined v a dotted line. Right: a collenchyma strand in cross section, lying just under the epidermis in a tiny rib.

Collenchyma deserve to be found in a lot of petioles or other structures the elongate rapidly while having actually to keep stiffness against bending forces. Collenchyma permits for this rapid growth by stretching, while it keeps that is strength. By contrast, the cells that consist of xylem vessels will stretch only since the stiff components of their walls are constructed like springs. Once they space stretched as well far, however, the ship collapse. Younger vessels, developed once development has slowed, take it over because that them.

The prominence of collenchyma is evident when friend remove just those strands indigenous a celery stalk and also then try to bending it. Once I closely removed only the collenchyma strands (and overlying epidermis), I can bend the celery stalk come the allude of breaking.

My mother taught me just how to remove both kinds of string: snap the petiole close to one end, leave the strings intact, and also then pull the brief piece up follow me the stalk, unearthing the strings follow me the way. If there are some strings left, castle will more than likely be sticking out of the broken end, and also you can conveniently pull castle up through a knife. Trim the ragged end, and also you have actually beautiful tender celery.


The celery marvel

there is a lot much more to be said about the biomechanical nature of celery. The not just shape and strings that save celery petioles native buckling under their own weight. It’s the location of those strings within the shape and also the way the tissues connect that are so impressive. In the indigenous of an additional highly influential botanist, knife Niklas, “Indeed, when we involved look in ~ a representative cross section of a petiole with the anatomically critical eye the a biomechanicist, we view that the composite tissue construction and spatial allocation the materials found in petioles reflect one of the most elegant expressions of evolutionary adaptation encountered in all of biology” (Niklas, 1992, pg 167).

A note about flavor

back we regularly use celery as a filler or a neutral automobile for miscellaneous rich and fatty, celery itself is actually an extremely aromatic and has distinctive flavor. Its surname Apium graveolens means “strong smelling punishment favorite.” together Jeanne has actually pointed out in a pair of posts, celery and its plenty of edible relatives contain some complex-tasting terpenes, specifically limonene and pinene. In addition, various celery pthalides it seems ~ to it is in responsible for enhancing the complexity and umami flavor of broth, even when offered at levels us cannot consciousness (Kurobayashi et al. 2007). Finally, there space the furanocoumarins, i beg your pardon taste harsh and also can irritate or numb your lips. Furanocoumarins can also cause photodermatitis, an allergic reaction triggered by light exposure. Eat normal amounts of celery is unlikely to reason much trouble, although farm workers have suffered reaction after hours of harvesting celery in the sun.

If without doubt there is a many celery in your Thanksgiving job recipes, ns hope that you can be relaxed sufficient in the kitchen to marvel over it. If not, you re welcome at least pass along this lesson to an elementary college student: celery is not a stem! Happy Thanksgiving indigenous Jeanne and Katherine.

References and further reading

Esau, K. (1936). Ontogeny and structure the collenchyma and of vascular organization in celery petioles. California Agriculture, 10(11), 429-476.

Kurobayashi, Y., Katsumi, Y., Fujita, A., Morimitsu, Y., & Kubota, K. (2007). Flavor enhancement of chicken broth from boiled celery constituents. Journal of farming and food chemistry, 56(2), 512-516. Http://

Leroux, O. (2012). Collenchyma: a versatile mechanical tissue v dynamic cell walls. Annals of botany, 110(6), 1083-1098.

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Niklas, K. J. (1992). Plant biomechanics: one engineering strategy to plant kind and function. College of Chicago press.