Non Flowering Plants: An Overview

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Historically speaking, all living things are traditionally placed into one of two groups, plants, and animals. This classification dates back to Aristotle’s times from 384 BC – 322 BC, who distinguished between plants, which do not move, and animals, that are mobile and catch their food. Plants are classified according to flowering plants and non flowering plants. 

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The flowering plants produce flowers for reproduction, whereas non-flowering plants don’t produce flowers for reproduction. Non-flowering plants are equally valuable as those of the flowering varieties in their role in the ecosystem and aesthetic value. 

What Is A Non Flowering Plant?

Non flowering plants are those plants that do not produce flowers. These include mosses, liverworts, hornworts, lycophytes, and ferns and reproduce by spores. Non-flowering plants can be defined as those groups of plants that do not produce flowers for reproduction.

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They are more straightforward in the organization as compared to the flowering plants (spring flowering plants). Some still refer to fungi and algae in the group of non-flowering plants. However, these are not true plants, as they do not have true roots and leaves. Fungi and algae are classified into different divisions.

Evolution of Non Flowering Plants

When studying the evolution process, you can see that non-flowering plants evolved long before the flowering varieties. The non flowering plants are one of the primitive forms of organisms on earth. Horsetails, pine trees and ferns are the commonly known non flowering plants we observe in and around our environment.

Plants have evolved from relatively simple and small, with increasing in complexity until culminating in today’s flowering plants you can see today. Plants originated in the water in the form of single-celled organisms or relatively simple clumps of cells similar to algae. When they moved in land, having each cell near a source of water and nutrients kept them small like the mosses.

On the development of vascular tissue, water and nutrients could be conducted longer distances, from roots to the tips of leaves, and ferns developed. Improvements in water-based spore reproduction led to the first seeds.

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Non flowering seed plants today are called gymnosperms and include conifers and palm trees. Gymnosperms, evolved into the .flowering plants. Of the several plants that can be observed in backyard, flowering plants are probably the most familiar, representing the dominant and most successful plants on Earth.

But the moss growing underfoot, the fern nodding in the shadows of the trees and the tall, silent conifer–all non-flowering plants–have survived as well, each with its own distinct life cycle marking different steps on the path of plant evolution.

Difference Between Flowering and Non flowering Plants

Besides that flowering plants bear flowers, while non-flowering plants do not, there several features characterize both the plant groups. Their difference is as follows:

  • All flowering plants have advanced forms and a vascular system, whereas non-flowering plants comprise non-vascular forms (mosses) and vascular forms (ferns and pines).
  • The majority of the flowering plants produce seeds to develop new plants, whereas most of the non flowering plants with some exceptions produce tiny spores for propagation.
  • Flowering plants bear male and female parts, either in the same or different plant. In contrast non flowering plants do not have such striking plant parts.
  • Seeds produced by the flowering plants are enclosed in fruit, while this is not so in the case of sources derived from non-flowering plants.
  • In case of flowering plants, the sporophyte phase is dominant. However, in non-flowering plants, the sporophyte and gametophyte are either independent (ferns), or the gametophyte phase is dominant (moss).

Classification of Non Flowering Plants

Non-flowering plants are divided into two main groups according to how they reproduce. One group is called gymnosperm, which reproduces itself from seeds, while the other group reproduces from the spores. Some non-flowering plants, called gymnosperms or conifers, still produce seeds.

Previously, non-flowering plants and plant-like organisms (algae, fungi, mosses, ferns, conifers) were categorized under cryptograms. At present, non-flowering plants are commonly known as gymnosperms, while flowering plants are called angiosperms.

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Mosses, Ferns, Gymnosperms, and Angiosperms provide a plant classification scheme. Among all these four,  all are non-flowering, barring the angiosperms. Mosses do not have any vascular tissue, and they reproduce using spores. Ferns reproduce by spores, but they have a primitive vascular system that allows the transport of nutrients.

Gymnosperms have improved reproduction with the development of the seed, removing the need for water to reproduce and contributing extra protection to plant embryos. All these three types of non-flowering plants have slightly different life cycles.

Mosses

Mosses are distinctive among plants because theirs is the only life cycle where the visible plant is haploid, containing only half the expected number of chromosomes. The plant develops shoots, female and male, and eggs and sperm form at the tips. When rain falls, water carries the sperm to the egg, and the resulting fusion produces a complete set of chromosomes called a sporophyte.

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The sporophyte develops into the stalk, and the cells at the tip divide until they have only half the number of chromosomes again. The wind carries these spores to new locations, where they divide and develop into new mosses.

Ferns

Unlike mosses, the ferns have the expected number of chromosomes. Structures called sori or fruit dots to form on the leaves’ undersides, the cells dividing until they have only half the number of chromosomes. Caught by the wind, if the spore lands in a suitable location, it will develop into a prothallus structure.

 

The prothallus produces eggs and sperm, and like the mosses, water carries the sperm to fertilize the egg. The resulting gamete replicates, forming a fern plant.

Gymnosperms

The need for water to transport their sex cells left the reproduction of mosses and ferns somewhat in the hands of chance, and of millions of spores produced, only one might be successful in establishing a new plant. Gymnosperms developed seeds and pollen, which the wind could carry.

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Gymnosperms have male and female sex cells on cone-like structures–the familiar pine cone contains the female cells and seeds. Male cones form pollen that, borne on the wind, lands on female cones, fertilizing the eggs inside the seed. The seeds germinate into new plants when the cones drop to the ground.

Non Flowering Plants for your Garden

The plants without flowers are a marvel. Due to their trunks or stems and their leaves, they look great in gardens. Additionally, the gymnosperms were the first that appeared on Earth, long before the dinosaurs did about 360 million years ago.

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Some of the standard non-flowering plants for Garden are as follows

Cycas revoluta

The Cycas is considered to be one of the most loved non-flowering plants today. It resembles like small palm tree, with a height of barely 2-4 meters, but it has nothing to do with it. It has a crown comprising of more than 20 pinnate leaves, coriaceous and green. Its growth rate is relatively slow, but its life expectancy is 200-300 years, so you have to put it in the sun. This would help in acclimatizing it ,if it comes from a greenhouse and enjoy it. Moreover, it can resists frost of up to -11ºC.

Dicksonia antarctica

It is an arboreal fern with prolonged growth that reaches a height of 2-3 meters. Its leaves areabout 1m long,pinnate, and very lovely pale green. The stem is extensive, up to 30cm. Since its roots are not invasive, it can be in a pot for several years, even during its entire life. You need to provide protection against direct sun, frequent watering, and a substrate or soil with good drainage and rich in organic matter. Additionally, it can resist temperatures of up to -4ºC.

Ginkgo biloba

It is the only tree that belongs to the Gymnosperm family. It is also called as the Tree of the Shields as its leaves are shaped like a shield. Its growth is slow, but it is an exciting plant as it has a height of 10 m. Its foliage turns yellow during the autumn.

It is very adaptable and it can live in both cold as well as temperate climates, as long as during the winter the temperature falls below 0ºC.It’s size, makes it a garden plant, and it needs to be placed in full sun if the climate is soft-cold, You should place it in semi-shade if it is relatively warm. It supports maximum temperature between 38ºC maximum and -18ºC minimum. 

Taxodium distichum

The Cypress of the Swamps is a conifer of 6-8 meters with slender leaves, less than half a centimeter in width, and with a length of 5-6cm. It is a deciduous plant, but it is dressed in its orange-reddish autumn suit before dropping its foliage. This non flowering plant proliferates if you have plenty of water. It can resist frost without any issues of up to -18ºC. However, you will need protection from the direct sun if the temperature rises above 30ºC.

Taxus baccata

This evergreen conifer is very decorative. It comprises small, long, thin leaflets, 4-5cm x less than 0.5cm. The new shoots are light green, and as their development finishes, they turn dark green. It reaches a height of up to 20 meters, and its trunk can be widened to 4m in diameter. The yew is ideal to have both semi-shade and full sun. Resists cold and frost of up to -7ºC.

Economic Importance of Non Flowering plants

Apart from ornamental value, non flowering plants are of great economic value as they provide many valuable products of commercial importance. Conifers give enormous softwood for packing, plywood, construction, board, and paper industries. Conifers provide turpentine, resin, tannins, and several other products.

The fossilized resin of Pinus Succinifera, or amber, is of great commercial value. You can roast and eat the seeds of Pinus Gerardiana.  The leaves of Taxus Baccata are used to treat asthma, bronchitis, epilepsy, and indigestions. This non flowering plant is also the source of an anticancer drug.

Another non flowering plant species, Ephedra, is the source of a valuable medicine, ephedrine, used to treat colds, hay fever, asthma, and other respiratory diseases.

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