The common feature uniting seed plants is the "seed habit," a unique method of sexual reproduction. In all vascular plants, the conspicuous plant is a spore producer (sporophyte) that alternates, in the life cycle, with a sexual phase (gametophyte). In seed plants, the spore that produces the female gametophyte is not shed to initiate an independent plant but is retained in the sporangium (reproductive structure), which is surrounded by a protective covering (integument). This is the immature seed or ovule.
Spores that produce male gametophytes are released as the gametophytes begin to develop. These are the pollen grains which are transferred to the ovules where fertilization is completed, resulting in seed development. The EVOLUTION of this method of reproduction, more than 350 million years ago, was one of the most significant steps in the adaptation of plants to life on land.
Gymnosperms, the more ancient group of seed plants, include CONIFERS, cycads and the maidenhair tree (Ginkgo). Although there are only about 800 living species, gymnosperms are important in the flora of many areas (eg, boreal forest). The FOSSIL record shows that they were much more important in the past, and included several now-extinct forms (eg, seed ferns). Pollen and ovules are produced in separate cones. Pollen grains are transferred directly to ovules, ultimately being drawn inside through an opening in the integument. Thus the ovules are exposed at the time of pollination (gymnosperm means "naked seed"), although usually enclosed later by growth of the cone scales. In the mature seed, the embryo is embedded in a nutritive tissue that is actually the female gametophyte.
The angiosperms, flowering plants, have dominated Earth's vegetation since the Cretaceous period (144.2-65 million years ago). Their distinctive reproductive structure, the flower, occurs in diverse forms related to different methods of pollination. Pollen and ovules may be found in the same or separate flowers. Pollen is produced in stamens. Ovules are formed inside the pistil; they are not exposed at the time of pollination (angiosperm means "vessel seed"). Pollen is transferred to a receptive surface on the pistil where it germinates; sperm are carried into the ovule by growth of the pollen tube. Seeds mature inside the pistil, which becomes the fruit. Some one-seeded fruits (eg, cereal grains) are often confused with seeds.
The nutritive tissue of the angiosperm seed is a new tissue, endosperm, which with the embryo results from the fertilization process. The endosperm frequently is absorbed by the embryo before the seed is mature. There are 2 major evolutionary lines of angiosperms: monocotyledons, with flower parts usually in threes, major leaf veins parallel and only one cotyledon (embryo leaf); and dicotyledons, with flower parts usually in fours or fives, net-veined leaves and 2 cotyledons.
Author T.A. STEEVES
Links to Other Sites
The website for "Davidsonia," a journal that provides original, review, discussion or summary work that is of interest to the botanical and botanical garden communities at large. Offers full text articles online. From the University of British Columbia.
The Plant List
Search this online database for information about one million plant species from around the world. Also, click on "major plant groups" at the bottom of the page to browse descriptions of species of interest. Fungi and algae are excluded. From the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the UK and the Missouri Botanical Garden in the US.
Invasive plants of natural habitats in Canada
An integrated review of wetland and upland species and legislation governing their control. From the Canadian Wildlife Service.
British Columbia Wildflowers
This extensively illustrated field guide to wildflowers of the southern interior of British Columbia was produced by the Royal British Columbia Museum and Okanagan University College.
Seeds of Diversity
This down-to-earth site provides information about public-domain non-hybrid plants of Canadian significance, including garden vegetables, fruit, grains and ornamentals. From “Seeds of Diversity,” Canada’s Heritage Seed Program.
Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility
A searchable information source about biological species such as plants, animals, and fungi found in Canada. A Government of Canada website.
Flora of North America
The FNA website features information on the names, taxonomic relationships, continent-wide distributions, and morphological characteristics of all plants native and naturalized found in North America north of Mexico.
A brief profile of Carl Linnaeus and the binomial naming system he devised for living organisms. From the website for the Linnean Society of London in the UK.
Northern Wetbelt Forests of British Columbia
An impressive gallery of images depicting flora and fauna of BC forests. A website from the University of Northern British Columbia.
Tree of Life
Explore the diversity of Earth's life forms at the Tree of Life website. Also includes beautiful photographs, an extensive glossary of biological terms, and "Treehouses" for younger readers.