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Gymnosperm

Gymnosperm

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The gymnosperms are a group of seed
Seed
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. It is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant...

-bearing plant
Plant
Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. Precise definitions of the kingdom vary, but as the term is used here, plants include familiar organisms such as trees, flowers, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The group is also called green plants or...

s that includes conifers, cycad
Cycad
Cycads are seed plants typically characterized by a stout and woody trunk with a crown of large, hard and stiff, evergreen leaves. They usually have pinnate leaves. The individual plants are either all male or all female . Cycads vary in size from having a trunk that is only a few centimeters...

s, Ginkgo
Ginkgo
Ginkgo , also spelled gingko and known as the Maidenhair Tree, is a unique species of tree with no close living relatives...

, and Gnetales. The term "gymnosperm" comes from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 word gymnospermos (γυμνόσπερμος), meaning "naked seeds", after the unenclosed condition of their seeds (called ovule
Ovule
Ovule means "small egg". In seed plants, the ovule is the structure that gives rise to and contains the female reproductive cells. It consists of three parts: The integument forming its outer layer, the nucellus , and the megaspore-derived female gametophyte in its center...

s in their unfertilized state). Their naked condition stands in contrast to the seeds or ovules of flowering plants (angiosperms
Flowering plant
The flowering plants , also known as Angiospermae or Magnoliophyta, are the most diverse group of land plants. Angiosperms are seed-producing plants like the gymnosperms and can be distinguished from the gymnosperms by a series of synapomorphies...

), which are enclosed during pollination. Gymnosperm seeds develop either on the surface of scale- or leaf-like appendages of cones
Conifer cone
A cone is an organ on plants in the division Pinophyta that contains the reproductive structures. The familiar woody cone is the female cone, which produces seeds. The male cones, which produce pollen, are usually herbaceous and much less conspicuous even at full maturity...

, or at the end of short stalks (Ginkgo).

The gymnosperms and angiosperms together comprise the spermatophyte
Spermatophyte
The spermatophytes comprise those plants that produce seeds. They are a subset of the embryophytes or land plants...

s or seed plants. By far the largest group of living gymnosperms are the conifers (pines, cypresses, and relatives), followed by cycads, Gnetales (Gnetophyta
Gnetophyta
The plant division Gnetophyta or gnetophytes consists of three genera of woody plants grouped in the gymnosperms. The living Gnetophyta consists of around 70 species across the three genera Gnetum , Welwitschia , and Ephedra .The gnetophytes differ from other gymnosperms The plant division...

, Ephedra
Ephedra (genus)
Ephedra is a genus of gymnosperm shrubs, the only genus in its family, Ephedraceae, and order, Ephedrales. Ephedra grows in dry climates over wide areas of the northern hemisphere, including southwestern North America, Europe, north Africa, and southwest and central Asia, and, in the southern...

 and Welwitschia
Welwitschia
Welwitschia is a monotypic genus of gymnosperm plant, composed solely of the very distinct Welwitschia mirabilis. The plant is commonly simply known as Welwitschia in English. It is known locally as !kharos or khurub , tweeblaarkanniedood , nyanka , or onyanga , among others...

), and Ginkgo
Ginkgo
Ginkgo , also spelled gingko and known as the Maidenhair Tree, is a unique species of tree with no close living relatives...

 (a single living species).

Classification



In early classification schemes, the gymnosperms (Gymnospermae) were regarded as a "natural" group. There is conflicting evidence on the question of whether the living gymnosperms form a clade
Clade
A clade is a group consisting of a species and all its descendants. In the terms of biological systematics, a clade is a single "branch" on the "tree of life". The idea that such a "natural group" of organisms should be grouped together and given a taxonomic name is central to biological...

. The fossil record of gymnosperms includes many distinctive taxa that do not belong to the four modern groups, including seed-bearing trees that have a somewhat fern
Fern
A fern is any one of a group of about 12,000 species of plants belonging to the botanical group known as Pteridophyta. Unlike mosses, they have xylem and phloem . They have stems, leaves, and roots like other vascular plants...

-like vegetative morphology (the so-called seed ferns or pteridosperms.) When fossil gymnosperms such as Bennettitales
Bennettitales
Bennettitales is an extinct order of seed plants that first appeared in the Triassic period and became extinct toward the end of the Cretaceous...

, Caytonia and the glossopterids are considered, it is clear that angiosperms are nested within a larger gymnosperm clade
Clade
A clade is a group consisting of a species and all its descendants. In the terms of biological systematics, a clade is a single "branch" on the "tree of life". The idea that such a "natural group" of organisms should be grouped together and given a taxonomic name is central to biological...

, although which group of gymnosperms are their closest relatives remains unclear. For the most recent classification on extant gymnosperms see Christenhusz et al. (2011)

Classification:'
SUBCLASS CYCADIDAE
  • ORDER CYCADALES
    • Family Cycadaceae: Cycas
    • Family Zamiaceae
      Zamiaceae
      The Zamiaceae are a family of cycads that are superficially palm or fern-like. They are divided into two subfamilies with eight genera and about 150 species in the tropical and warm temperate regions of Africa, Australia and North and South America....

      : Dioon, Bowenia, Macrozamia, Lepidozamia, Encephalartos, Stangeria, Ceratozamia, Microcycas, Zamia.


SUBCLASS GINKGOIDAE
  • ORDER GINKGOALES
    • Family Ginkgoaceae
      Ginkgoaceae
      The Ginkgoaceae is a family of gymnosperms which appeared during the Mesozoic Era, of which the only extant representative is Ginkgo biloba, which is for this reason sometimes regarded as a living fossil...

      : Ginkgo


SUBCLASS GNETIDAE
  • ORDER WELWITSCHIALES
    • Family Welwitschiaceae: Welwitschia
  • ORDER GNETALES
    • Family Gnetaceae: Gnetum
  • ORDER EPHEDRALES
    • Family Ephedraceae: Ephedra


SUBCLASS PINIDAE
  • ORDER PINALES
    • Family Pinaceae
      Pinaceae
      Pinaceae are trees or shrubs, including many of the well-known conifers of commercial importance such as cedars, firs, hemlocks, larches, pines and spruces. The family is included in the order Pinales, formerly known as Coniferales. Pinaceae are supported as monophyletic by its protein-type sieve...

      : Cedrus, Pinus, Cathaya, Picea, Pseudotsuga, Larix, Pseudolarix, Tsuga, Nothotsuga, Keteleeria, Abies
  • ORDER ARAUCARIALES
    • Family Araucariaceae
      Araucariaceae
      Araucariaceae, commonly referred to as araucarians, is a very ancient family of coniferous trees. It achieved its maximum diversity in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, when it was distributed almost worldwide...

      : Araucaria, Wollemia, Agathis
    • Family Podocarpaceae
      Podocarpaceae
      Podocarpaceae is a large family of mainly Southern Hemisphere conifers, comprising about 156 species of evergreen trees and shrubs. It contains 19 genera if Phyllocladus is included and if Manoao and Sundacarpus are recognized....

      : Phyllocladus, Lepidothamnus, Prumnopitys, Sundacarpus, Halocarpus, Parasitaxus, Lagarostrobos, Manoao, Saxegothaea, Microcachrys, Pherosphaera, Acmopyle, Dacrycarpus, Dacrydium, Falcatifolium, Retrophyllum, Nageia, Afrocarpus, Podocarpus
  • ORDER CUPRESSALES
    • Family Sciadopityaceae: Sciadopitys
    • Family Cupressaceae
      Cupressaceae
      The Cupressaceae or cypress family is a conifer family with worldwide distribution. The family includes 27 to 30 genera , which include the junipers and redwoods, with about 130-140 species in total. They are monoecious, subdioecious or dioecious trees and shrubs from 1-116 m tall...

      : Cunninghamia, Taiwania, Athrotaxis, Metasequoia, Sequoia, Sequoiadendron, Cryptomeria, Glyptostrobus, Taxodium, Papuacedrus, Austrocedrus, Libocedrus, Pilgerodendron, Widdringtonia, Diselma, Fitzroya, Callitris, Actinostrobus, Neocallitropsis, Thujopsis, Thuja, Fokienia, Chamaecyparis, Cupressus, Juniperus, Calocedrus, Tetraclinis, Platycladus, Microbiota
    • Family Taxaceae
      Taxaceae
      The family Taxaceae, commonly called the yew family, includes three genera and about 7 to 12 species of coniferous plants, or in other interpretations , six genera and about 30 species....

      : Austrotaxus, Pseudotaxus, Taxus, Cephalotaxus, Amentotaxus, Torreya

Diversity and origin


There are between 700 and 900 extant or currently living species of Gymnosperms.

It is widely accepted that the gymnosperms originated in the late Carboniferous
Carboniferous
The Carboniferous is a geologic period and system that extends from the end of the Devonian Period, about 359.2 ± 2.5 Mya , to the beginning of the Permian Period, about 299.0 ± 0.8 Mya . The name is derived from the Latin word for coal, carbo. Carboniferous means "coal-bearing"...

 period. This appears to have been the result of a whole genome duplication
Gene duplication
Gene duplication is any duplication of a region of DNA that contains a gene; it may occur as an error in homologous recombination, a retrotransposition event, or duplication of an entire chromosome.The second copy of the gene is often free from selective pressure — that is, mutations of it have no...

 event around Early characteristics of seed plants were evident in fossil progymnosperms of the late Devonian
Devonian
The Devonian is a geologic period and system of the Paleozoic Era spanning from the end of the Silurian Period, about 416.0 ± 2.8 Mya , to the beginning of the Carboniferous Period, about 359.2 ± 2.5 Mya...

 period around 380 million years ago. It has been suggested that during the mid-Mesozoic era, pollination of some extinct groups of gymnosperms were by extinct species of scorpionflies
Mecoptera
Mecoptera are an order of insects with about 550 species in nine families worldwide. Mecoptera are sometimes called scorpionflies after their largest family, Panorpidae, in which the males have enlarged genitals that look similar to the stinger of a scorpion...

 that had specialized proboscis
Proboscis
A proboscis is an elongated appendage from the head of an animal, either a vertebrate or an invertebrate. In simpler terms, a proboscis is the straw-like mouth found in several varieties of species.-Etymology:...

 for feeding on pollination drops. The scorpionflies likely engaged in pollination mutualisms with gymnosperms, long before the similar and independent coevolution of nectar-feeding insects on angiosperms.

Conifers are by far the most abundant extant group of gymnosperms with six to eight families, with a total of 65-70 genera and 600-630 species (696 accepted names). Conifers are woody plants and most are evergreens. The leaves
Leaf
A leaf is an organ of a vascular plant, as defined in botanical terms, and in particular in plant morphology. Foliage is a mass noun that refers to leaves as a feature of plants....

 of many conifers are long, thin and needle-like, others species, including most Cupressaceae
Cupressaceae
The Cupressaceae or cypress family is a conifer family with worldwide distribution. The family includes 27 to 30 genera , which include the junipers and redwoods, with about 130-140 species in total. They are monoecious, subdioecious or dioecious trees and shrubs from 1-116 m tall...

 and some Podocarpaceae
Podocarpaceae
Podocarpaceae is a large family of mainly Southern Hemisphere conifers, comprising about 156 species of evergreen trees and shrubs. It contains 19 genera if Phyllocladus is included and if Manoao and Sundacarpus are recognized....

, have flat, triangular scale-like leaves. Agathis
Agathis
The genus Agathis, commonly known as kauri or dammar, is a relatively small genus of 21 species of evergreen tree. The genus is part of the ancient Araucariaceae family of conifers, a group once widespread during the Jurassic period, but now largely restricted to the Southern Hemisphere except for...

 in Araucariaceae and Nageia
Nageia
Nageia is a genus of conifers belonging to the podocarp family Podocarpaceae. Nageia includes evergreen shrubs and trees, from one to 54 meters in height. A 2009 treatment of the genus recognized five species. Some authors consider Nageia formosensis to be a separate species from Nageia nagi,...

 in Podocarpaceae have broad, flat strap-shaped leaves.

Cycad
Cycad
Cycads are seed plants typically characterized by a stout and woody trunk with a crown of large, hard and stiff, evergreen leaves. They usually have pinnate leaves. The individual plants are either all male or all female . Cycads vary in size from having a trunk that is only a few centimeters...

s are the next most abundant group of gymnosperms, with about 130 species. The other extant groups are the 75 - 80 species of Gnetale
Gnetum
Gnetum is a genus of about 30-35 species of gymnosperms, the sole genus in the family Gnetaceae and order Gnetales. They are tropical evergreen trees, shrubs and lianas. Unlike other gymnosperms they possess vessel elements in the xylem...

s and one species of Ginkgo
Ginkgo
Ginkgo , also spelled gingko and known as the Maidenhair Tree, is a unique species of tree with no close living relatives...

.

Uses


Gymnosperms have major economic uses. Pine, fir, spruce, and cedar are all examples of conifers that are used for lumber
Lumber
Lumber or timber is wood in any of its stages from felling through readiness for use as structural material for construction, or wood pulp for paper production....

. Some other common uses for gymnosperms are soap
Soap
In chemistry, soap is a salt of a fatty acid.IUPAC. "" Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. . Compiled by A. D. McNaught and A. Wilkinson. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford . XML on-line corrected version: created by M. Nic, J. Jirat, B. Kosata; updates compiled by A. Jenkins. ISBN...

, varnish
Varnish
Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. Varnish finishes are usually glossy but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss...

, nail polish
Nail polish
Nail polish, or nail varnish, is a lacquer applied to human fingernails or toenails to decorate and/or protect the nail plate.-History:...

, food, and perfume
Perfume
Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils and/or aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents used to give the human body, animals, objects, and living spaces "a pleasant scent"...

s.

Life cycle


Gymnosperms are spore-bearing plants (sporophyte
Sporophyte
All land plants, and some algae, have life cycles in which a haploid gametophyte generation alternates with a diploid sporophyte, the generation of a plant or algae that has a double set of chromosomes. A multicellular sporophyte generation or phase is present in the life cycle of all land plants...

s), with a sporophyte-dominant life-cycle; as in all other vascular plants, the gametophyte
Gametophyte
A gametophyte is the haploid, multicellular phase of plants and algae that undergo alternation of generations, with each of its cells containing only a single set of chromosomes....

 (gamete-bearing phase) is relatively short-lived. Two spore types, microspores and megaspores, are, in general, produced in pollen cones or ovulate cones, respectively. A short-lived multicellular haploid, gamete-bearing phase (gametophyte
Gametophyte
A gametophyte is the haploid, multicellular phase of plants and algae that undergo alternation of generations, with each of its cells containing only a single set of chromosomes....

) develops inside the spore wall. Pollen grains (microgametophytes) mature from microspores, and ultimately produce sperm cells; megagametophyte tissue develops in the megaspore of each ovule, and produces multiple egg cells. Thus, megaspores are enclosed in ovules (unfertilized seeds) and give rise to megagametophytes and ultimately to egg cells. During pollination, pollen grains are physically transferred between plants, from pollen cone to the ovule, being transferred by wind or insects. Whole grains enter each ovule through a microscopic gap in the ovule coat (integument) called the micropyle. The pollen grains mature further inside the ovule and produce sperm cells. Two main modes of fertilization are found in gymnosperms. Cycad
Cycad
Cycads are seed plants typically characterized by a stout and woody trunk with a crown of large, hard and stiff, evergreen leaves. They usually have pinnate leaves. The individual plants are either all male or all female . Cycads vary in size from having a trunk that is only a few centimeters...

s and Ginkgo
Ginkgo
Ginkgo , also spelled gingko and known as the Maidenhair Tree, is a unique species of tree with no close living relatives...

 have motile sperm that swim directly to the egg inside the ovule, whereas conifers and gnetophytes have sperm with no flagella that are conveyed to the egg along a pollen tube
Pollen tube
The pollen tubes is the male gametophyte of seed plants that acts as a conduit to transport the male sperm cells from the pollen grain, either from the stigma to the ovules at the base of the pistil, or directly through ovule tissue in some gymnosperms .After pollination, the pollen tube...

. After fertilization (joining of the sperm and egg cell), the zygote develops into an embryo (young sporophyte). More than one embryo is usually initiated in each gymnosperm seed. Competition between the embryos for nutritional resources within polyembryonic seeds produces programmed cell death
Programmed cell death
Programmed cell-death is death of a cell in any form, mediated by an intracellular program. PCD is carried out in a regulated process which generally confers advantage during an organism's life-cycle...

to all but one embryo. The mature seed comprises the embryo and the remains of the female gametophyte, which serves as a food supply, and the seed coat (integument).

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