The differences between conifers and flowing plantsDo you know your gymnosperms from your angiosperms? Don’t worry if you don’t, as I am here to help you. I am going to tell you the main characteristics of each plant group, and the differences between these classifications.
Gymnosperms - Conifers and non-flowering plants
All plants can be identified as either a gymnosperm or an angiosperm. The first group known as “gymnosperms” is the oldest group and originated roughly 319 million years ago, before pollinating insects had evolved. The word gymnosperms translates from Greek as “naked seed”. This is because the seeds produced from this classification of plant are not protected by a fruit (they are naked!). This group of plants does not flower so does not require insects to pollinate it – these plants rely on the wind for pollination.
Seeds of gymnosperms form on the scales or leaves of the plant, on stalks on trees such as the Ginkgo tree; and they form cones on conifers. Conifers are the most important group, and all conifers are gymnosperms (but not all gymnosperms are conifers!). Nearly all gymnosperms are evergreen, and they are all perennial, woody plants.
The other major characteristic of gymnosperms is that they bear the male and female parts separately on the plant, e.g. in the forms of male and female cones on coniferous plants. The male cone will shed pollen in the wind, some of which will land on the female cones and fertilise them. This is known as wind pollination.
Remember, if you find a cone on a plant, it is a conifer - which means it's a gymnosperm. If you find a flower, then it is an angiosperm - I will talk about them next.
Angiosperms - flowering plants
Angiosperms are true, flowering plants and include 80% of the world’s plants. The word angiosperm translates from Greek as “vessel seed” – because the seeds produced from this classification of plant are encased and protected within an ovary (sometimes a fruit). These flowering plants originated about 140 million years ago, are pollinated by insect, and include plants with different lifespans (annual, biennial, perennial etc.).
The insects we know as "pollinating insects" evolved approximately 57 million years ago, some time after the first angiosperms. The early angiosperms such as the Magnolia were pollinated by beetle when they crawled over the flowers, transferring pollen to stigma. As flying, pollinating insects evolved the angiosperms developed to have hermaphrodite (male and female) flowers with scent and colour to attract them.
Angiosperms have flowers which house both the male and female parts required for pollination, e.g. pollen from the male stamen is transfered to the female stigma (and down to the ovules) when a bee visits the flower (known as insect pollination).
So, if a plant has flowers, it’s an angiosperm. If it doesn’t, it's a gymnosperm.
Gymnosperm vs. Angiosperm
Hopefully, that has helped you to understand that gymnosperms have unprotected seeds and that they are pollinated by wind; whilst angiosperms have protected seeds and they are pollinated by insect.
Below is a chart or a “cheat sheet” which indicates the groups’ main characteristics to help you to learn the differences between these two plant classifications (click on it to enlarge and open it in another window). If you'd like to, you can save it, print it and pin it to your fridge!*
If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below.
*PLEASE NOTE: By saving/using my FREE chart, you agree not to sell, reproduce it in any way. You may not change the design.