A Fern Life Cycle: Plant Reproduction Without Flowers or Seeds

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  • 0:05 Introduction: Fern…
  • 0:36 Review: Alternation of…
  • 2:07 The Haploid Stage
  • 3:59 The Diploid Stage
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Weber

Danielle teaches high school science and has an master's degree in science education.

Ferns are able to reproduce without using seeds. We will look at how ferns reproduce as well as the pattern of alternating between diploid and haploid life stages.

Introduction: Fern Reproduction Without Seeds

Photo of fern leaves
Ferns Photo

Ferns are seedless vascular plants. Ferns were the first type of vascular plant and are generally considered to be simpler than vascular plants that make seeds.

Ferns can range from very short, unimpressive house plants to larger, full grown trees. Ferns are often used in landscaping and decoration but also occur naturally in a variety of environments.

We already know that many plants go through a life cycle that alternates between diploid and haploid, but let's review some basic aspects of this before looking at how ferns go through this process.

Review: Alternation of Generations

This alternation of generations is a life cycle that includes both diploid and haploid multicellular stages. Remember that diploid means two sets of chromosomes and is commonly abbreviated as '2N' because the N stands for chromosomes. In diploid cells, one copy of chromosomes comes from each parent. For example, in humans, you get one copy of chromosomes from your dad and one copy of chromosomes from your mom.

The same idea is found in plants. Each diploid cell contains one copy of chromosomes from the male parent and one copy of chromosomes from the female parent. Haploid means one set of chromosomes and is commonly abbreviated as 'N' because there is only one copy of the chromosomes.

Alternation of generations diagram
Alternation of Generations Diagram

Let's look at a diagram of the basic idea of alternation of generations. We can see in this diagram that the life cycle is broken into N - on the top - and 2N - on the bottom. Remember that the gametophyte contains haploid cells and that the sporophyte contains diploid cells. Previously, we used the garblinx to illustrate the oddity of this. Remember that the diploid, or 2N, organism looks like this.

Diagram showing diploid organism
diagram of diploid organism

However, when it moves into the haploid stage, the garblinx looks completely different! Two of these haploid organisms will get together and mate in order to produce a new 2N organism that looks similar to the first garblinx. This garblinx will then eventually produce a new haploid organism and so on.

Now that we have reviewed the basic aspects of this life cycle, let's look at how ferns go through the cycle. We will start with the haploid stage as we did previously and then move into the dominant diploid stage.

The Haploid Stage

We will use this diagram to illustrate the life cycle of ferns.

Diagram of the fern life cycle
Fern Life Cycle

The fern begins with the haploid stage as a spore. The spore will undergo mitosis in order to create many identical haploid cells. This group of cells is called the gametophyte. We can see in our diagram that the spore develops into the gametophyte. Most fern gametophytes look like heart-shaped leaves and are smaller than your pinky nail.

Interestingly enough, this gametophyte, though unimpressive in size and structure, is capable of photosynthesis. This means that the gametophyte can make its own energy and grow independently.

After development and growth as a gametophyte, the spore is then ready to produce gametes. Gametes are made in a specific area of the gametophyte. Gametangia are organs in gametophytes that produce gametes.

There are two types of gametangia: one produces eggs and the other produces sperm. The archegonia are the female gametangia that produce one egg at a time. The antheridia are the male gametangia that produce many sperm. You may be able to remember which gametangia are male and which are female because anthers are male structures in flowers that produce sperm. If you know that anthers produce sperm, you can remember that antheridia also produce sperm and therefore are male.

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