Vascular plant

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Vascular plants
Temporal range: Silurian–Present, 425–0 Ma [1] [2]
Athyrium filix-femina.jpg
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Embryophytes
Clade: Polysporangiophytes
Clade: Tracheophytes
Sinnott, 1935 [3] ex Cavalier-Smith, 1998 [4]
† Extinct

Vascular plants (from Latin vasculum: duct), also known as tracheophytes (from the equivalent Greek term trachea), form a large group of plants (c. 300,000 accepted known species) [5] that are defined as land plants that have lignified tissues (the xylem) for conducting water and minerals throughout the plant. They also have a specialized non-lignified tissue (the phloem) to conduct products of photosynthesis. Vascular plants include the clubmosses, horsetails, ferns, gymnosperms (including conifers) and angiosperms (flowering plants). Scientific names for the group include Tracheophyta, [6] [4] :251 Tracheobionta [7] and Equisetopsida sensu lato. Some early land plants (the rhyniophytes) had less developed vascular tissue; the term eutracheophyte has been used for all other vascular plants.



Botanists define vascular plants by three primary characteristics:

  1. Vascular plants have vascular tissues which distribute resources through the plant. Two kinds of vascular tissue occur in plants: xylem and phloem. Phloem and xylem are closely associated with one another and are typically located immediately adjacent to each other in the plant. The combination of one xylem and one phloem strand adjacent to each other is known as a vascular bundle. [8] The evolution of vascular tissue in plants allowed them to evolve to larger sizes than non-vascular plants, which lack these specialized conducting tissues and are thereby restricted to relatively small sizes.
  2. In vascular plants, the principal generation phase is the sporophyte , which produces spores and is diploid (having two sets of chromosomes per cell). (By contrast, the principal generation phase in non-vascular plants is the gametophyte , which produces gametes and is haploid - with one set of chromosomes per cell.)
  3. Vascular plants have true roots, leaves, and stems, even if some groups have secondarily lost one or more of these traits.

Cavalier-Smith (1998) treated the Tracheophyta as a phylum or botanical division encompassing two of these characteristics defined by the Latin phrase "facies diploida xylem et phloem instructa" (diploid phase with xylem and phloem). [4] :251

One possible mechanism for the presumed evolution from emphasis on haploid generation to emphasis on diploid generation is the greater efficiency in spore dispersal with more complex diploid structures. Elaboration of the spore stalk enabled the production of more spores and the development of the ability to release them higher and to broadcast them farther. Such developments may include more photosynthetic area for the spore-bearing structure, the ability to grow independent roots, woody structure for support, and more branching.[ citation needed ]


A proposed phylogeny of the vascular plants after Kenrick and Crane 1997 [9] is as follows, with modification to the gymnosperms from Christenhusz et al. (2011a), [10] Pteridophyta from Smith et al. [11] and lycophytes and ferns by Christenhusz et al. (2011b) [12] The cladogram distinguishes the rhyniophytes from the "true" tracheophytes, the eutracheophytes. [9]


Pteridospermatophyta  † (seed ferns)

Cycadophyta (cycads)

Pinophyta (conifers)

Ginkgophyta (ginkgo)


Magnoliophyta (flowering plants)



Pteridopsida (true ferns)


Equisetopsida (horsetails)

Psilotopsida (whisk ferns & adders'-tongues)








This phylogeny is supported by several molecular studies. [11] [13] [14] Other researchers state that taking fossils into account leads to different conclusions, for example that the ferns (Pteridophyta) are not monophyletic. [15]

Nutrient distribution

Photographs showing xylem elements in the shoot of a fig tree (Ficus alba): crushed in hydrochloric acid, between slides and cover slips. Ficusxylem.jpg
Photographs showing xylem elements in the shoot of a fig tree (Ficus alba): crushed in hydrochloric acid, between slides and cover slips.

Water and nutrients in the form of inorganic solutes are drawn up from the soil by the roots and transported throughout the plant by the xylem. Organic compounds such as sucrose produced by photosynthesis in leaves are distributed by the phloem sieve tube elements.

The xylem consists of vessels in flowering plants and tracheids in other vascular plants, which are dead hard-walled hollow cells arranged to form files of tubes that function in water transport. A tracheid cell wall usually contains the polymer lignin. The phloem, however, consists of living cells called sieve-tube members. Between the sieve-tube members are sieve plates, which have pores to allow molecules to pass through. Sieve-tube members lack such organs as nuclei or ribosomes, but cells next to them, the companion cells, function to keep the sieve-tube members alive.


The most abundant compound in all plants, as in all cellular organisms, is water, which serves an important structural role and a vital role in plant metabolism. Transpiration is the main process of water movement within plant tissues. Water is constantly transpired from the plant through its stomata to the atmosphere and replaced by soil water taken up by the roots. The movement of water out of the leaf stomata creates a transpiration pull or tension in the water column in the xylem vessels or tracheids. The pull is the result of water surface tension within the cell walls of the mesophyll cells, from the surfaces of which evaporation takes place when the stomata are open. Hydrogen bonds exist between water molecules, causing them to line up; as the molecules at the top of the plant evaporate, each pulls the next one up to replace it, which in turn pulls on the next one in line. The draw of water upwards may be entirely passive and can be assisted by the movement of water into the roots via osmosis. Consequently, transpiration requires very little energy to be used by the plant. Transpiration assists the plant in absorbing nutrients from the soil as soluble salts.


Living root cells passively absorb water in the absence of transpiration pull via osmosis creating root pressure. It is possible for there to be no evapotranspiration and therefore no pull of water towards the shoots and leaves. This is usually due to high temperatures, high humidity, darkness or drought.[ citation needed ]


Xylem and phloem tissues are involved in the conduction processes within plants. Sugars are conducted throughout the plant in the phloem, water and other nutrients through the xylem. Conduction occurs from a source to a sink for each separate nutrient. Sugars are produced in the leaves (a source) by photosynthesis and transported to the growing shoots and roots (sinks) for use in growth, cellular respiration or storage. Minerals are absorbed in the roots (a source) and transported to the shoots to allow cell division and growth. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

Plant cell The type of eukaryotic cell present in green plants

Plant cells are eukaryotic cells present in green plants, photosynthetic eukaryotes of the kingdom Plantae. Their distinctive features include primary cell walls containing cellulose, hemicelluloses and pectin, the presence of plastids with the capability to perform photosynthesis and store starch, a large vacuole that regulates turgor pressure, the absence of flagella or centrioles, except in the gametes, and a unique method of cell division involving the formation of a cell plate or phragmoplast that separates the new daughter cells.

Xylem Water transport tissue in vascular plants

Xylem is one of the two types of transport tissue in vascular plants, phloem being the other. The basic function of xylem is to transport water from roots to stems and leaves, but it also transports nutrients. The word "xylem" is derived from the Greek word ξύλον (xylon), meaning "wood"; the best-known xylem tissue is wood, though it is found throughout a plant. The term was introduced by Carl Nägeli in 1858.

Phloem Sugar transport tissue in vascular plants

Phloem is the living tissue in vascular plants that transports the soluble organic compounds made during photosynthesis and known as photosynthates, in particular the sugar sucrose, to parts of the plant where needed. This transport process is called translocation. In trees, the phloem is the innermost layer of the bark, hence the name, derived from the Greek word φλοιός (phloios) meaning "bark". The term was introduced by Carl Nägeli in 1858.

Fern Class of vascular plants

A fern is a member of a group of vascular plants that reproduce via spores and have neither seeds nor flowers. They differ from mosses by being vascular, i.e., having specialized tissues that conduct water and nutrients and in having life cycles in which the sporophyte is the dominant phase. Ferns have complex leaves called megaphylls, that are more complex than the microphylls of clubmosses. Most ferns are leptosporangiate ferns. They produce coiled fiddleheads that uncoil and expand into fronds. The group includes about 10,560 known extant species. Ferns are defined here in the broad sense, being all of the Polypodiopsida, comprising both the leptosporangiate (Polypodiidae) and eusporangiate ferns, the latter group including horsetails or scouring rushes, whisk ferns, marattioid ferns, and ophioglossoid ferns.

Tissue (biology) Cellular organization level between cell and organ

In biology, tissue is a cellular organizational level between cells and a complete organ. A tissue is an ensemble of similar cells and their extracellular matrix from the same origin that together carry out a specific function. Organs are then formed by the functional grouping together of multiple tissues.

Root pressure

'Root Pressure'. It is the transverse osmotic pressure within the cells of a root system that causes sap to rise through a plant stem to the leaves.

Vascular cambium

The vascular cambium is the main growth tissue in the stems and roots of many plants, specifically in dicots such as buttercups and oak trees, gymnosperms such as pine trees, as well as in certain vascular plants. It produces secondary xylem inwards, towards the pith, and secondary phloem outwards, towards the bark.

Gymnosperm Clade of non-flowering, naked-seeded plants

The gymnosperms, also known as Acrogymnospermae, are a group of seed-producing plants that includes conifers, cycads, Ginkgo, and gnetophytes. The term "gymnosperm" comes from the composite word in Greek: γυμνόσπερμος, literally meaning "naked seeds". The name is based on the unenclosed condition of their seeds. The non-encased condition of their seeds contrasts with the seeds and ovules of flowering plants (angiosperms), which are enclosed within an ovary. Gymnosperm seeds develop either on the surface of scales or leaves, which are often modified to form cones, or solitary as in yew, Torreya, Ginkgo.

Embryophyte Subclade of green plants, also known as land plants

The Embryophyta, or land plants, are the most familiar group of green plants that form vegetation on earth. Embryophyta is a clade within the Phragmoplastophyta, a larger clade that also includes several green algae groups, and within this large clade the embryophytes are sister to the Zygnematophyceae/Mesotaeniaceae and consist of the bryophytes plus the polysporangiophytes. Living embryophytes therefore include hornworts, liverworts, mosses, ferns, lycophytes, gymnosperms and flowering plants. The Embryophyta are informally called land plants because they live primarily in terrestrial habitats, while the related green algae are primarily aquatic. Embryophytes are complex multicellular eukaryotes with specialized reproductive organs. The name derives from their innovative characteristic of nurturing the young embryo sporophyte during the early stages of its multicellular development within the tissues of the parent gametophyte. With very few exceptions, embryophytes obtain their energy by photosynthesis, that is by using the energy of sunlight to synthesize their food from carbon dioxide and water.

Non-vascular plant

Non-vascular plants are plants without the vascular system consisting of xylem and phloem. Although non-vascular plants lack these particular tissues, many possess simpler tissues that have specialized functions for the internal transport of water.

Equisetidae Subclass of ferns

Equisetidae is one of the four subclasses of Polypodiopsida (ferns), a group of vascular plants with a fossil record going back to the Devonian. They are commonly known as horsetails. They typically grow in wet areas, with whorls of needle-like branches radiating at regular intervals from a single vertical stem.

Pteridophyte Paraphyletic group of spore-bearing vascular plants

A pteridophyte is a vascular plant that disperses spores. Because pteridophytes produce neither flowers nor seeds, they are sometimes referred to as "cryptogams", meaning that their means of reproduction is hidden. Ferns, horsetails, and lycophytes are all pteridophytes. However, they do not form a monophyletic group because ferns are more closely related to seed plants than to lycophytes. "Pteridophyta" is thus no longer a widely accepted taxon, but the term pteridophyte remains in common parlance, as do pteridology and pteridologist as a science and its practitioner, respectively. Ferns and lycophytes share a life cycle and are often collectively treated or studied, for example by the International Association of Pteridologists and the Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group.


Psilotaceae is a family of ferns consisting of two genera, Psilotum and Tmesipteris with about a dozen species. It is the only family in the order Psilotales.

Sieve elements are specialized cells that are important for the function of phloem, which is a highly organized tissue that transports organic compounds made during photosynthesis. Sieve elements are the major conducting cells in phloem. Conducting cells aid in transport of molecules especially for long-distance signaling. In plant anatomy, there are two main types of sieve elements. Companion cells and sieve cells originate from meristems, which are tissues that actively divide throughout a plant's lifetime. They are similar to the development of xylem, a water conducting tissue in plants whose main function is also transportation in the plant vascular system. Sieve elements' major function includes transporting sugars over long distance through plants by acting as a channel. Sieve elements elongate cells containing sieve areas on their walls. Pores on sieve areas allow for cytoplasmic connections to neighboring cells, which allows for the movement of photosynthetic material and other organic molecules necessary for tissue function. Structurally, they are elongated and parallel to the organ or tissue that they are located in. Sieve elements typically lack a nucleus and contain none to a very small number of ribosomes. The two types of sieve elements, sieve tube members and sieve cells, have different structures. Sieve tube members are shorter and wider with greater area for nutrient transport while sieve cells tend to be longer and narrower with smaller area for nutrient transport. Although the function of both of these kinds of sieve elements is the same, sieve cells are found in gymnosperms, non-flowering vascular plants, while sieve tube members are found in angiosperms, flowering vascular plants.

Vascular tissue Conducting tissue in vascular plants

Vascular tissue is a complex conducting tissue, formed of more than one cell type, found in vascular plants. The primary components of vascular tissue are the xylem and phloem. These two tissues transport fluid and nutrients internally. There are also two meristems associated with vascular tissue: the vascular cambium and the cork cambium. All the vascular tissues within a particular plant together constitute the vascular tissue system of that plant.

Eusporangiate fern

Eusporangiate ferns are vascular spore plants, whose sporangia arise from several epidermal cells and not from a single cell as in leptosporangiate ferns. Typically these ferns have reduced root systems and sporangia that produce large amounts of spores

Evolutionary history of plants The origin and diversification of plants through geologic time

The evolution of plants has resulted in a wide range of complexity, from the earliest algal mats, through multicellular marine and freshwater green algae, terrestrial bryophytes, lycopods and ferns, to the complex gymnosperms and angiosperms of today. While many of the earliest groups continue to thrive, as exemplified by red and green algae in marine environments, more recently derived groups have displaced previously ecologically dominant ones, e.g. the ascendance of flowering plants over gymnosperms in terrestrial environments.

Lepidodendrales Extinct order of vascular tree-like plants

Lepidodendrales were primitive, vascular, arborescent (tree-like) plants related to the lycopsids. Members of Lepidodendrales are the best understood of the fossil lycopsids due to the vast diversity of Lepidodendrales specimens and the diversity in which they were preserved; the extensive distribution of Lepidodendrales specimens as well as their well-preservedness lends paleobotanists exceptionally detailed knowledge of the coal-swamp giants’ reproductive biology, vegetative development, and role in their paleoecosystem. The defining characteristics of the Lepidodendrales are their secondary xylem, extensive periderm development, three-zoned cortex, rootlike appendages known as stigmarian rootlets arranged in a spiralling pattern, and megasporangium each containing a single functional megaspore that germinates inside the sporangium. Many of these different plant organs have been assigned both generic and specific names as relatively few have been found organically attached to each other. Some specimens have been discovered which indicate heights of 40 and even 50 meters and diameters of over 2 meters at the base. The massive trunks of some species branched profusely, producing large crowns of leafy twigs; though some leaves were up to 1 meter long, most were much shorter, and when leaves dropped from branches their conspicuous leaf bases remained on the surface of branches. Strobili could be found at the tips of distal branches or in an area at the top of the main trunk. The underground organs of Lepidodendrales typically consisted of dichotomizing axes bearing helically arranged, lateral appendages serving an equivalent function to roots. Sometimes called "giant club mosses", they are in fact more closely related to quillworts than to club mosses.

Plant stem structural axis of a vascular plant

A stem is one of two main structural axes of a vascular plant, the other being the root. It supports leaves, flowers and fruits, transports water and dissolved substances between the roots and the shoots in the xylem and phloem, stores nutrients, and produces new living tissue.


Transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from aerial parts, such as leaves, stems and flowers. Water is necessary for plants but only a small amount of water taken up by the roots is used for growth and metabolism. The remaining 97–99.5% is lost by transpiration and guttation. Leaf surfaces are dotted with pores called stomata, and in most plants they are more numerous on the undersides of the foliage. The stomata are bordered by guard cells and their stomatal accessory cells that open and close the pore. Transpiration occurs through the stomatal apertures, and can be thought of as a necessary "cost" associated with the opening of the stomata to allow the diffusion of carbon dioxide gas from the air for photosynthesis. Transpiration also cools plants, changes osmotic pressure of cells, and enables mass flow of mineral nutrients and water from roots to shoots. Two major factors influence the rate of water flow from the soil to the roots: the hydraulic conductivity of the soil and the magnitude of the pressure gradient through the soil. Both of these factors influence the rate of bulk flow of water moving from the roots to the stomatal pores in the leaves via the xylem.


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