Classification of Vascular, Nonvascular, Monocot & Dicot Plants

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  • 2:58 Nonvascular
  • 3:32 Vascular
  • 4:03 Gymnosperms
  • 4:21 Angiosperms
  • 4:51 Monocot vs. Dicot
  • 6:20 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.

Plants may not seem like the most interesting things around, but they are definitely useful. In this lesson, we will explore the basic classification of plants and the unique characteristics of each group.

Overview of Plants

We rely on plants for more than most people think. Not only do they provide a good source of food, but they also provide us with the oxygen we breathe and many of the vitamins and minerals our bodies require. Even if you do not love fruits and vegetables, the other foods you may eat - such as chicken, steak or even seafood - rely on plants to get their nutrients. In this lesson, we will look at the different groups of plants. Before we do that, let's review what a plant actually is.

Plants are organisms that are photosynthetic, are eukaryotic and have cell walls. Part of this definition may make sense, but let's look at it piece-by-piece in order to fully understand what defines a plant.

Photosynthesis is the process by which autotrophs convert light energy into chemical energy. This is done when plants use energy from the sun, as well as other reactants such as carbon dioxide and water, to make sugar, most commonly glucose. The balanced reaction for photosynthesis is 6CO2 + 6H2O + light energy -> C6H12O6 + 6O2, which is read as 'carbon dioxide plus water plus light energy yields glucose plus oxygen.' Plants store glucose as food and release the oxygen, which is then used by organisms such as humans.

Eukaryotic means a cell with a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. If you have learned about cells before, you may recall hearing about prokaryotic versus eukaryotic cells. Remember that prokaryotic cells do not have a nucleus or membrane-bound organelles. Eukaryotic cells are those that you generally think of because they are the cells that are in your body. These same cells are found in plants.

One key difference between the cells in your body and the cells in plants is the third part of the definition of plants: cell walls. A cell wall is a rigid layer around a cell.

Illustration of a cell wall (highlighted in yellow)
Cell Wall Illustration

In plants, this cell wall is made up of a sugar called cellulose. Think of cellulose as the crunchy stuff when you eat celery or other crunchy vegetables. The cell wall helps maintain the shape of the cell.

Vascular vs. Nonvascular Plants

Now that we have the definition of plants down, let's look at how plants are classified. The first division of plants is seen in vascular tissue, or tissue used to transport water and nutrients throughout a plant. Think of vascular tissue as the water lines in a city. These lines bring water to your home much like the vascular tissue of plants brings water to different parts of the plant. There are two types of vascular tissue: xylem and phloem. Xylem transports water and dissolved minerals, while phloem transports food. The easiest way to remember which vascular tissue is which is that 'phloem' and 'food' both start with the same sound.

Plants that do not have xylem and phloem are considered nonvascular. These plants are small, simple and less advanced than most plants that you may think of. Mosses, liverworts and hornworts are the three main groups of nonvascular plants. They are all small because there is no transport system to move required food and nutrients around in the plant. Also, these nonvascular plants do not have roots but instead have rhizoids, which are little hairs that help anchor the plant. We will look at nonvascular plants a bit more in later lessons.

Vascular plants have xylem and phloem and are probably what you think of when you think of plants. Common examples are trees, grasses and shrubs. Because of the vascular tissue, these plants can grow to be incredibly large as nutrients and water are moved from the roots to the leaves and anywhere else in the plant. We will now look at types of vascular plants in greater detail.

Gymnosperm vs. Angiosperm

There are several ways to classify vascular plants. The first grouping is based on the presence or absence of flowers. Gymnosperms were the first plants with seeds. They are vascular plants and do not produce flowers. However, the seed is beneficial because it provides protection and food for the plant embryo. Examples of gymnosperms include conifers - or evergreens - and ginkgoes.

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