Gymnosperms: Characteristics, Definition & Types

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  • 0:01 Definition of Gymnosperms
  • 0:39 Characteristics of Gymnosperms
  • 0:54 Types of Gymnosperms
  • 3:12 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.

In this lesson, we will explore gymnosperms, which are a unique group of plants that do not have bright flowers or seeds that are protected in fruit. We will examine types of them as well as their characteristics and the way they reproduce.

Definition of Gymnosperms

One crucial step in the evolutionary history of all plants was the development of seeds. Seeds provide a viable means for dispersal of offspring without the need for water. They're a far more efficient way of dispersal and allow plants to exist away from direct sources of water.

Gymnosperms were the first plants to have seeds. They are often referred to as having naked seeds because they do not have flowers, and their seeds develop on the surface of the reproductive structures of the plants rather than being contained in a specialized ovary. These seeds are often found on the surfaces of cones and short stalks.

Characteristics of Gymnosperms

Gymnosperms are a group of plants with the following unique characteristics:

  • They do not have an outer covering or shell around their seeds
  • They do not produce flowers
  • They do not produce fruits
  • They are pollinated by the wind

Types of Gymnosperms

All gymnosperms are found in four major divisions of plants. The divisions are Ginkgophyta, Cycadophyta, Gnetophyta, and Coniferophyta.

The division Ginkgophyta contains the Ginkgo Biloba or Maidenhair tree. These trees were originally only found in China but have now been propagated all around the world. They grow to be approximately 20-35 meters high and are easily recognized by their fan-shaped leaves. The trees are either male or female. Ginkgo trees do not produce cones. Their seeds begin as two ovules that grow on the end of a stalk. Once the ovules are fertilized by pollen carried in the wind, they grow into a light yellow-brown seed that falls to the ground and are known for their awful smell, which is often said to resemble dog feces or vomit.

The division Cycadophyta contains the plants commonly known as cycads. The cycads thrived during the Jurassic period, but only a few species live today. These plants are characterized by a large crown of leaves and a stout, thick trunk. They are found in most tropical or sub-tropical parts of the world and are commonly confused with ferns or palms. Their seeds grow on short stalks called strobili at the center of the plant and are pollinated by the wind.

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