What Is the Difference Between C3, C4 and CAM Plants?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Mar 26, 2020 5:33:44 PM ET

The main difference between C3, C4 and CAM plants is the way these plants minimize water loss. All of these plants are able to adapt to arid, high heat and light environmental conditions.

According to Pima Community College, during photosynthesis, C3 plants incorporate carbon dioxide into a three-carbon compound, while C4 plants incorporate carbon dioxide into a four-carbon compound. CAM plants store carbon dioxide as an acid before using it in photosynthesis. For C3 and C4 plants, the stomata are open during the day. At night, the stomata of CAM plants open, and the carbon dioxide is converted and stored as an acid. During the day, the acid is broken down, and the carbon dioxide is released. C3 plants are most efficient under cool and moist conditions, while C4 and CAM plants are most efficient under arid conditions. In C3 plants, photosynthesis occurs in the leaf. Photosynthesis takes place in the inner cells of C4 plants. Under extreme weather conditions, CAM plants can enter an idle stage where they leave the stomata closed during the day and night. CAM plants, such as cacti and aloe vera, can adapt to endure much hotter weather conditions than any C4 plant. C4 plants are typically summer plants, such as corn.