Skip to main content
Biology LibreTexts

26.1A: The Evolution of Seed Plants and Adaptations for Land

  • Page ID
    13672
  • The evolution of seeds allowed plants to reproduce independently of water; pollen allows them to disperse their gametes great distances.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Recognize the significance of seed plant evolution

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • Plants are used for food, textiles, medicines, building materials, and many other products that are important to humans.
    • The evolution of seeds allowed plants to decrease their dependency upon water for reproduction.
    • Seeds contain an embryo that can remain dormant until conditions are favorable when it grows into a diploid sporophyte.
    • Seeds are transported by the wind, water, or by animals to encourage reproduction and reduce competition with the parent plant.

    Key Terms

    • seed: a fertilized ovule, containing an embryonic plant
    • sporophyte: a plant (or the diploid phase in its life cycle) that produces spores by meiosis in order to produce gametophytes
    • pollen: microspores produced in the anthers of flowering plants

    Evolution of Seed Plants

    The lush palms on tropical shorelines do not depend upon water for the dispersal of their pollen, fertilization, or the survival of the zygote, unlike mosses, liverworts, and ferns of the terrain. Seed plants, such as palms, have broken free from the need to rely on water for their reproductive needs. They play an integral role in all aspects of life on the planet, shaping the physical terrain, influencing the climate, and maintaining life as we know it. For millennia, human societies have depended upon seed plants for nutrition and medicinal compounds; and more recently, for industrial by-products, such as timber and paper, dyes, and textiles. Palms provide materials including rattans, oils, and dates. Wheat is grown to feed both human and animal populations. The fruit of the cotton boll flower is harvested as a boll, with its fibers transformed into clothing or pulp for paper. The showy opium poppy is valued both as an ornamental flower and as a source of potent opiate compounds.

    image

    Seed plants dominate the landscape: Seed plants dominate the landscape and play an integral role in human societies. (a) Palm trees grow along the shoreline; (b) wheat is a crop grown in most of the world; (c) the flower of the cotton plant produces fibers that are woven into fabric; (d) the potent alkaloids of the beautiful opium poppy have influenced human life both as a medicinal remedy and as a dangerously-addictive drug.

    Seeds and Pollen as an Evolutionary Adaptation to Dry Land

    Unlike bryophyte and fern spores (which are haploid cells dependent on moisture for rapid development of gametophytes ), seeds contain a diploid embryo that will germinate into a sporophyte. Storage tissue to sustain growth and a protective coat give seeds their superior evolutionary advantage. Several layers of hardened tissue prevent desiccation, freeing reproduction from the need for a constant supply of water. Furthermore, seeds remain in a state of dormancy induced by desiccation and the hormone abscisic acid until conditions for growth become favorable. Whether blown by the wind, floating on water, or carried away by animals, seeds are scattered in an expanding geographic range, thus avoiding competition with the parent plant.

    Pollen grains are male gametophytes carried by wind, water, or a pollinator. The whole structure is protected from desiccation and can reach the female organs without dependence on water. Male gametes reach female gametophyte and the egg cell gamete though a pollen tube: an extension of a cell within the pollen grain. The sperm of modern gymnosperms lack flagella, but in cycads and the Gingko, the sperm still possess flagella that allow them to swim down the pollen tube to the female gamete; however, they are enclosed in a pollen grain.

    image

    Fossilized pollen grains: This fossilized pollen is from a Buckbean fen core found in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. The pollen is magnified 1,054 times.