Evolution of Seed Plants

Section Summary

Seed plants appeared about one million years ago, during the Carboniferous period. Two major innovations were seeds and pollen. Seeds protect the embryo from desiccation and provide it with a store of nutrients to support the early growth of the sporophyte. Seeds are also equipped to delay germination until growth conditions are optimal. Pollen allows seed plants to reproduce in the absence of water. The gametophytes of seed plants shrank, while the sporophytes became prominent structures and the diploid stage became the longest phase of the life cycle.

In the gymnosperms, which appeared during the drier Permian period and became the dominant group during the Triassic, pollen was dispersed by wind, and their naked seeds developed in the sporophylls of a strobilus. Angiosperms bear both flowers and fruit. Flowers expand the possibilities for pollination, especially by insects, who have coevolved with the flowering plants. Fruits offer additional protection to the embryo during its development, and also assist with seed dispersal. Angiosperms appeared during the Mesozoic era and have become the dominant plant life in terrestrial habitats.