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Keywords:

  • Cell walls (viscoelasticity);
  • growth biophysics;
  • plant growth;
  • stress relaxation;
  • wall expansion;
  • wall extensibility

SUMMARY

Expansive growth of plant cells is controlled principally by processes that loosen the wall and enable it to expand irreversibly. The central role of wall relaxation for cell expansion is reviewed. The most common methods for assessing the extension properties of plant cell walls (‘wall extensibility’) are described, categorized and assessed critically. What emerges are three fundamentally different approaches which test growing cells for their ability (a) to enlarge at different values of turgor, (b) to induce wall relaxation, and (c) to deform elastically or plastically in response to an applied tensile force. Analogous methods with isolated walls are similarly reviewed. The results of these different assays are related to the nature of plant cell growth and pertinent biophysical theory. I argue that the ‘extensibilities’ measured by these assays are fundamentally different from one another and that some are more pertinent to growth than others.