growing points at the tips of shoots and roots.
A meristem is the tissue in most plants containing undifferentiated cells (meristematic cells), found in zones of the plant where growth can take place. Meristematic cells give rise to various organs of a plant and are responsible for growth.
Differentiated plant cells generally cannot divide or produce cells of a different type. Meristematic cells are incompletely or not at all differentiated, and are capable of continued cellular division. Therefore, cell division in the meristem is required to provide new cells for expansion and differentiation of tissues and initiation of new organs, providing the basic structure of the plant body. Furthermore, the cells are small and protoplasm fills the cell completely. The vacuoles are extremely small. The cytoplasm does not contain differentiated plastids (chloroplasts or chromoplasts), although they are present in rudimentary form (proplastids). Meristematic cells are packed closely together without intercellular cavities. The cell wall is a very thin primary cell wall as well as some are thick in some plants. Maintenance of the cells requires a balance between two antagonistic processes: organ initiation and stem cell population renewal.
There are three types of meristematic tissues: apical (at the tips), intercalary (in the middle) and lateral (at the sides). At the meristem summit, there is a small group of slowly dividing cells, which is commonly called the central zone. Cells of this zone have a stem cell function and are essential for meristem maintenance. The proliferation and growth rates at the meristem summit usually differ considerably from those at the periphery.
The term meristem was first used in 1858 by Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli (1817–1891) in his book Beiträge zur Wissenschaftlichen Botanik ("Contributions to Scientific Botany"). It is derived from the Greek word merizein (μερίζειν), meaning to divide, in recognition of its inherent function.