The flower is the
reproductive structure of angiosperms or flowering plants. Compared
to the reproductive structures
of other plants,
the flower is unique in several ways. It consists of four kinds
of modified leaves, two of which (stamens and carpels, the latter
sometimes called pistils) bear pollen and seeds. Several non-flowering
plants also produce pollen and seeds on modified leaves, but in
angiosperms the modified leaf called the carpel forms an ovary
that completely encloses the ovule, which becomes the seed. In
the gymnosperms, ovules are borne on open modified leaves, such
as the scale of a pinecone. The term angiosperm, derived from the
Greek, means "seed in a vessel." Gymnosperm means "naked
According to the
fossil record, flowering plants appeared only about 140 million
years ago, although some recently
fossil evidence suggests that they appeared 80 million years
before that. (The earliest land plants, blue-green algae, appeared
1.2 billion years ago.) The angiosperms now dominate the world's
vegetation. Only the gymnosperms offer any substantial competition.
There may be more than 250,000 angiosperm species, compared to
fewer than 1,000 gymnosperm species and fewer than about 40,000
other types of vascular plants (ferns and their relatives) and
bryophytes (liverworts, mosses, hornworts). There are fewer than
15,000 species of algae and perhaps more than 100,000 species
of fungi and bacteria.
More than any other
of the major plant groups, flowering plants are ecologically
related to animals.
Modern animals, including
humans, and flowering plants are equally dependent upon each
other. Most flowering species rely on animals for reproduction.
carry pollen from the stamens to the carpels; bats and birds
participate in Pollination of some species.
to their colorful and aromatic flowers and tasty fruits further
ensure the dispersal and growth of the seeds. Many fruits and
seeds (the exclusive products of angiosperms) are also collected
and consumed by humans, and the seeds are planted in extensive
systems of agriculture. Almost all plants used in agriculture
are angiosperms. (Mushrooms, fern fiddleheads, and pine nuts
are exceptions.) In another relationship between plants and
animals, only the special growing cells at the base of a grass
(angiosperm) leaf seem well adapted to animal grazing.