The Life Cycle of an Angiosperm
The adult or sporophyte phase is the main phase of an angiosperm’s life cycle (Figure). Like gymnosperms, angiosperms are heterosporous. Therefore, they produce microspores, which will generate pollen grains as the male gametophytes, and megaspores, which will form an ovule that contains female gametophytes. Inside the anther’s microsporangia, male sporocytes divide by meiosis to generate haploid microspores, which, in turn, undergo mitosis and give rise to pollen grains. Each pollen grain contains two cells: one generative cell that will divide into two sperm and a second cell that will become the pollen tube cell.
Question: If a flower lacked a megasporangium, what type of gamete would not form? If the flower lacked a microsporangium, what type of gamete would not form?
The ovule, sheltered within the ovary of the carpel, contains the megasporangium protected by two layers of integuments and the ovary wall. Within each megasporangium, a diploid megasporocyte undergoes meiosis, generating four haploid megaspores—three small and one large. Only the large megaspore survives; it divides mitotically three times to produce eight nuclei distributed among the seven cells of the female gametophyte or embryo sac. Three of these cells are located at each pole of the embryo sac. The three cells at one pole become the egg and two synergids. The three cells at the opposite pole become antipodal cells. The center cell contains the remaining two nuclei (polar nuclei). This cell will eventually produce the endosperm of the seed. The mature embryo sac then contains one egg cell, two synergids or “helper” cells, three antipodal cells (which eventually degenerate), and a central cell with two polar nuclei. When a pollen grain reaches the stigma, a pollen tube extends from the grain, grows down the style, and enters through the micropyle: an opening in the integuments of the ovule. The two sperm are deposited in the embryo sac.
A double fertilization event then occurs. One sperm and the egg combine, forming a diploid zygote—the future embryo. The other sperm fuses with the polar nuclei, forming a triploid cell that will develop into the endosperm—the tissue that serves as a food reserve for the developing embryo. The zygote develops into an embryo with a radicle, or small root, and one (monocot) or two (dicot) leaf-like organs called cotyledons. This difference in the number of embryonic leaves is the basis for the two major groups of angiosperms: the monocots and the eudicots. Seed food reserves are stored outside the embryo, in the form of complex carbohydrates, lipids, or proteins. The cotyledons serve as conduits to transmit the broken-down food reserves from their storage site inside the seed to the developing embryo. The seed consists of a toughened layer of integuments forming the coat, the endosperm with food reserves, and at the center, the well-protected embryo.
Most angiosperms have perfect flowers, which means that each flower carries both stamens and carpels (Figure). In monoecious plants, male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are separate, but carried on the same plant. Sweetgums (Liquidambar spp.) and beeches (Betula spp. are monoecious (Figure). In dioecious plants, male and female flowers are found on separate plants. Willows (Salix spp.) and poplars (Populus spp.) are dioecious. In spite of the predominance of perfect flowers, only a few species of angiosperms self-pollinate. Both anatomical and environmental barriers promote cross-pollination mediated by a physical agent (wind or water), or an animal, such as an insect or bird. Cross-pollination increases genetic diversity in a species.