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.
- 26.0: Prelude to Seed Plants
- For millennia, human societies have depended on 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.
- 26.1: Evolution of Seed Plants
- The first plants to colonize land were most likely closely related to modern day mosses (bryophytes) and are thought to have appeared about 500 million years ago. They were followed by liverworts (also bryophytes) and primitive vascular plants—the pterophytes—from which modern ferns are derived.
- 26.2: Gymnosperms
- Gymnosperms, meaning “naked seeds,” are a diverse group of seed plants and are paraphyletic. Paraphyletic groups are those in which not all members are descendants of a single common ancestor. Their characteristics include naked seeds, separate female and male gametes, pollination by wind, and tracheids (which transport water and solutes in the vascular system).
- 26.3: Angiosperms
- From their humble and still obscure beginning during the early Jurassic period, the angiosperms—or flowering plants—have evolved to dominate most terrestrial ecosystems. With more than 250,000 species, the angiosperm phylum (Anthophyta) is second only to insects in terms of diversification.
- 26.4: The Role of Seed Plants
- Without seed plants, life as we know it would not be possible. Plants play a key role in the maintenance of terrestrial ecosystems through stabilization of soils, cycling of carbon, and climate moderation. Large tropical forests release oxygen and act as carbon dioxide sinks. Seed plants provide shelter to many life forms, as well as food for herbivores, thereby indirectly feeding carnivores. Plant secondary metabolites are used for medicinal purposes and industrial production.
Thumbnail: Sunflower (Sunfola variety) against a blue sky. (CC BY-NC 3.0 / cropped from original; Fir0002/Flagstaffotos via Wikipedia).