Ephemeral Plants: Examples & Concept

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  • 0:03 Plant Life Cycles
  • 1:13 What Are Ephemeral Plants?
  • 1:49 Examples of Ephemeral Plants
  • 2:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derrick Arrington

Derrick has taught biology and chemistry at both the high school and college level. He has a master's degree in science education.

Plants have a variety of life spans; some live for years, while others live for only short periods of time. In this lesson, we'll examine the plants that botanists classify as ephemeral.

Plant Life Cycles

You are probably close to a plant right now. There are millions of species of plants found all over the world. If you have ever grown plants in a vegetable garden or flowers as a hobby, then you probably know that they grow over varying time periods. Some of the giant redwood trees in California have lived for hundreds of years, while most vegetable plants only last for a season.

If you visit a nursery to by flowers, you will see them classified as annual, perennial, and biennial. Annual flowers are those that germinate, produce seeds, flower, and die all in one year. Perennial flowers take a long time to complete their life cycle; they will continue to grow year after year. Biennial flowers are flowers that take two years to complete their life cycle. This means they will germinate, produce seeds, flower, and die over a period of two years.

Biologically speaking, an organism such as a plant must reproduce in order to be considered successful. The whole purpose of a plant is for it to mature and reproduce in order to spread its genetic material through its offspring. Many plants only live long enough to successfully reproduce, then they die. Others live to reproduce year after year.

What Are Ephemeral Plants?

Botanists also recognize that there are plants with much shorter life cycles than those mentioned before. These plants are known as ephemeral plants. The word 'ephemeral' means transitory, or quickly fading. So, these are plants that live their lives - germinate, produce seeds, flower, and die - within a short period of time to take advantage of optimal conditions. They're found in a variety of environments and have successfully adapted to be able to reproduce and spread their genetic information. Ephemeral plants are usually classified under three types: spring, desert, and weedy.

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