Life Cycles of Different Types of Plants

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

From spores to gametophytes to flowers, plants have many different life cycles. This lesson will focus on the life cycles of three groups of plants: the flowering angiosperms, the ferns and the mosses.

Kingdom Plantae

Some have flowers, some eat meat, some are tall and some cover the forest floor. The members of the kingdom Plantae are a diverse group of organisms that you have come to depend upon, whether that is as an ingredient in your salad or as a fiber for your clothing! Let's take a moment to investigate the life cycle for three very different members of this kingdom: the angiosperms, the ferns and the mosses.

Angiosperm Life Cycle

When you think of plants, angiosperms are probably what pop into your mind. From tulips to roses, angiosperms consist of over 300,000 species of flowering plants. This group is the most numerous and diverse out of the kingdom and makes up 80% of all plant species. Let's start the life cycle with a full-grown plant that is flowering. This is known as the sporophyte phase, or when the plant is an adult. These flowering plants produce pollen, which contains sperm, in the anther. Eggs are produced in the ovule, which is located in the ovary. I should mention the anthers and ovaries are located within the flower.

Reproductive structures of a flower. Pay close attention to the anther, ovary, ovule and stigma
flower

The egg and sperm are haploid, meaning each cell contains only one set of chromosomes. Contrast this with diploid, which means each cell contains two sets of chromosomes.

The pollen is haploid
haploid

Pollination occurs when the pollen grains are transferred to the stigma of another flower (or, in some species, one flower has both male and female parts so self-pollination can occur). This is achieved from wind, animals or water. When the pollen grain lands on a stigma of a flower that is compatible, fertilization takes place if the pollen grain makes contact with the egg. Specifically a double fertilization takes place. What? A double fertilization? Let me explain. I didn't mention it previously, but two sperm are in the pollen grain and they fuse with the egg. The result is a polyploid offspring, meaning there are multiple copies of chromosomes, not just one set as is seen in a haploid cell. This is a characteristic angiosperms share. The ovule becomes a seed and the ovary becomes a fruit. If conditions are favorable, the seed grows and the cycle repeats itself.

You can thank the ovary of an angiosperm for fruit
fruit

Fern Life Cycle

Now that you have an idea about the angiosperm life cycle, let's look at a drastically different life cycle, or that of ferns. Ferns are a type of vascular plant and they contain stems and leaves, but do not have flowers or seeds like the angiosperms. So, without flowers and seeds, how in the world do ferns reproduce? I'm so glad you asked!

Ferns have been around a lot longer than flowering plants. In fact they were having success 200 million years before flowering plants even came around. Today it is estimated that there are between 9,000 and 15,000 species of fern. Let's start with an adult fern, or the sporophyte. This fern produces haploid spores on the underside of its leaves. Wind, water or animals can disperse these spores, which will eventually grow into a heart-shaped gametophytes, which are tiny plants that produce egg and sperm cells. Egg and sperm are often referred to as gametes, so you can see how gameotophytes get their name, right?

A heart-shaped gametophyte
fern

These egg and sperm cells will fertilize each other (or other sperm and egg produced by another gametophyte), which will result in a baby fern.

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