Aerenchyma or aeriferous parenchyma  is a modification of the parenchyma to form a spongy tissue that creates spaces or air channels in the leaves, stems and roots of some plants, which allows exchange of gases between the shoot and the root. The channels of air-filled cavities (see image to right) provide a low-resistance internal pathway for the exchange of gases such as oxygen and ethylene between the plant above the water and the submerged tissues. Aerenchyma is also widespread in aquatic and wetland plants which must grow in hypoxic soils.
The word "aerenchyma" is Modern Latin derived from Latin aer for "air" and Greek enkhyma for "infusion."
When soil is flooded, hypoxia develops, as soil microorganisms consume oxygen faster than diffusion occurs. The presence of hypoxic soils is one of the defining characteristics of wetlands. Many wetland plants possess aerenchyma, and in some, such as water-lilies, there is mass flow of atmospheric air through leaves and rhizomes. There are many other chemical consequences of hypoxia. For example, nitrification is inhibited as low oxygen occurs and toxic compounds are formed, as anaerobic bacteria use nitrate, manganese, and sulfate as alternative electron acceptors. The reduction-oxidation potential of the rhizhosphere decreases and metal ions such as iron and manganese precipitate.
The large air-filled cavities provide a low-resistance internal pathway for the exchange of gases between the plant organs above the water and the submerged tissues. This allows plants to grow without incurring the metabolic costs of anaerobic respiration. Some of the oxygen transported through the aerenchyma leaks through root pores into the surrounding soil. The resulting small rhizosphere of oxygenated soil around individual roots support microorganisms that prevent the influx of potentially toxic soil components such as sulfide, iron, and manganese.