The shape and function of plant cells are often highly interdependent. The puzzle-shaped cells that appear in the epidermis of many plants are a striking example of a complex cell shape, however their functional benefit has remained elusive. We propose that these intricate forms provide an effective strategy to reduce mechanical stress in the cell wall of the epidermis. When tissue-level growth is isotropic, we hypothesize that lobes emerge at the cellular level to prevent formation of large isodiametric cells that would bulge under the stress produced by turgor pressure. Data from various plant organs and species support the relationship between lobes and growth isotropy, which we test with mutants where growth direction is perturbed. Using simulation models we show that a mechanism actively regulating cellular stress plausibly reproduces the development of epidermal cell shape. Together, our results suggest that mechanical stress is a key driver of cell-shape morphogenesis.