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Scientific name: Magnoliophyta
English name: Flowering plants; Monocots; Dicots
Vietnamese name: Thực vật có hoa; Mộc lan; Hạt kín
Other name: Angiospermae


The flowering plants or angiosperms are the most widespread group of land plants. The flowering plants and the gymnosperms comprise the two extant groups of seed plants. The flowering plants are distinguished from other seed plants by a series of apomorphies, or derived characteristics.

Angiosperm derived characteristics


The flowers of flowering plants are the most remarkable feature distinguishing them from other seed plants. Flowers aided angiosperms by enabling a wider range of evolutionary relationships and broadening the ecological niches open to them, allowing flowering plants to eventually dominate terrestrial ecosystems.

Stamens with two pairs of pollen sacs

Stamens are much lighter than the corresponding organs of gymnosperms and have contributed to the diversification of angiosperms through time with adaptations to specialized pollination syndromes, such as particular pollinators. Stamens have also become modified through time to prevent self-fertilization, again to increase diversity, allowing angiosperms to eventually fill more niches.

Reduced male parts, three cells

The reduced male gametophyte in angiosperms may have evolved to decrease the amount of time from pollination, the pollen grain reaching the female plant, to the fertilization of the ovary. In gymnosperms fertilization can occur up to a year after pollination, while in flowering plants the fertilization process begins very soon after pollination, allowing angiosperms, ultimately, to set seeds sooner and faster than gymnosperms.

Closed carpel enclosing the ovules (carpel or carpels and accessory parts may become the fruit)

The closed carpel of angiosperms also allows adaptations to specialized pollination syndromes and controls to prevent self-fertilization, thereby maintaining increased diversity. Once the ovary is fertilized the carpel and some surrounding tissues develop into a fruit, another opportunity for angiosperms to increase their domination of the terrestrial ecosystem with evolutionary adaptations to dispersal mechanisms.

Reduced female gametophyte, seven cells with eight nuclei

The reduced female gametophyte, like the reduced male gametophyte may be adaptations allowing for more rapid seed set, eventually leading to such flowering plant adaptations as annual herbaceous life cycles, allowing the flowering plants to fill even more niches.


Endosperm formation generally begins after fertilization and before the first division of the zygote. Endosperm is a highly nutritive tissue that can provide food for the developing embryo, the cotyledons, and sometimes for the seedling when it first appears.

These distinguishing characteristics taken together have made the angiosperms the most diverse and numerous land plants and the most commercially important group to humans. The major exception to the dominance of terrestrial ecosystems by flowering plants is the coniferous forest.


Land plants have existed for about 425 million years. Early land plants reproduced by spores like their aquatic counterparts. Marine organisms can easily scatter copies of themselves to float away and grow elsewhere. Land plants soon found it advantageous to protect their copies from drying out and other hazards by enclosing them in a case, the seed. Early seed bearing plants, like the ginkgo, and conifers (such as pines and firs), did not produce flowers.

The earliest fossil of an angiosperm, or flowering plant, Archaefructus liaoningensis, is dated to about 125 million years BP. Pollen, considered directly linked to flower development, has been found in the fossil record perhaps as long ago as 130 million years.

While there is only hard evidence of such flowers existing about 130 million years ago, there is some circumstantial evidence that they may have existed 250 million years ago. A chemical used by plants to defend their flowers, oleanane, has been detected in fossil plants that old, including gigantopterids, which evolved at that time and bear many of the traits of modern, flowering plants, though they are not known to be flowering plants themselves, because only their stems and prickles have been found preserved in detail; one of the earliest examples of petrification.

The apparently sudden appearance of relatively modern flowers in the fossil record posed such a problem for the theory of evolution that it was called an "abominable mystery" by Charles Darwin.

Recently discovered angiosperm fossils such as Archaefructus, along with further discoveries of fossil gymnosperms, suggest how angiosperm characteristics may have been acquired in a series of steps.

Several groups of extinct gymnosperms, particularly seed ferns, have been proposed as the ancestors of flowering plants but there is no continuous fossil evidence showing exactly how flowers evolved. Some older fossils, such as the upper Triassic Sanmiguelia, have been suggested. Based on current evidence, some propose that the ancestors of the angiosperms diverged from an unknown group of gymnosperms during the late Triassic (245-202 million years ago). The relationship of the earlier gigantopterids to flowering plants is still enigmatic.

A close relationship between angiosperms and Gnetophytes, suggested on the basis of morphological evidence, has been disputed on the basis of molecular evidence that suggest Gnetophytes are more closely related to other gymnosperms.

Recent DNA analysis (molecular systematics) show that Amborella trichopoda, found on the Pacific island of New Caledonia, belongs to a sister group of the other flowering plants, and morphological studies suggest that it has features which may have been characteristic of the earliest flowering plants.

The great angiosperm radiation, when a great diversity of angiosperms appear in the fossil record, occurred in the mid-Cretaceous (approximately 100 million years ago). By the late Cretaceous, angiosperms appear to have become the predominant group of land plants, and many fossil plants recognizable as belonging to modern families (including beech, oak, maple, and magnolia) appeared.

It is generally assumed that the function of flowers, from the start, was to involve the mobile animals in the reproduction process. Pollen can be scattered without bright colors and obvious shapes. Expending energy on these structures would appear to be a liability, unless they provide significant benefit.

Island genetics provides one proposed explanation for the sudden, fully developed appearance of flowering plants. Island genetics is believed to be a common source of speciation in general, especially when it comes to radical adaptations which seem to have required inferior transitional forms. Flowering plants may have evolved in an isolated setting like an island or island chain, where the plants bearing them were able to develop a highly specialized relationship with some specific animal (a wasp, for example). Such a relationship, with a hypothetical wasp carrying pollen from one plant to another much the way fig wasps do today, could result in both the plant(s) and their partners developing a high degree of specialization. Note that the wasp example is not incidental; bees, which apparently evolved specifically due to mutualistic plant relationships, are descended from wasps.

Animals are also involved in the distribution of seeds. Fruit, which is formed by the enlargement flower parts, is frequently a seed disbursal tool which depends upon animals, who eat or otherwise disturb it, incidentally scattering the seeds it contains (see frugivory).

While many such mutualistic relationships remain too fragile to survive competition with mainland animals and spread, flowers proved to be an unusually effective means of production, spreading (whatever their actual origin) to become the dominant form of land plant life.

Flowers are derived from leaf and stem components, arising from a combination of genes normally responsible for forming new shoots. The most primitive flowers are thought to have had a variable number of flower parts, often separate from (but in contact with) each other. The flowers would have tended to grow in a spiral pattern, to be bisexual (in plants, this means both male and female parts on the same flower), and to be dominated by the ovary (female part). As flowers grew more advanced, some variations developed parts fused together, with a much more specific number and design, and with either specific sexes per flower or plant, or at least "ovary inferior".

Flower evolution continues to the present day; modern flowers have been so profoundly influenced by humans that some of them cannot be pollinated in nature. Many modern, domesticated flowers used to be simple weeds, which only sprouted when the ground was disturbed. Some of them tended to grow with human crops, perhaps already having symbiotic companion plant relationships with them, and the prettiest did not get plucked because of their beauty, developing a dependence upon and special adaptation to human affection.


A monocot (left), and dicot
The botanical term "Angiosperm", from the ancient Greek a??e??? (receptacle) and spe?µa (seed), was coined in the form Angiospermae by Paul Hermann in 1690, as the name of that one of his primary divisions of the plant kingdom. This included flowering plants possessing seeds enclosed in capsules, distinguished from his Gymnospermae, or flowering plants with achenial or schizo-carpic fruits, the whole fruit or each of its pieces being here regarded as a seed and naked. The term and its antonym were maintained by Carolus Linnaeus with the same sense, but with restricted application, in the names of the orders of his class Didynamia. Its use with any approach to its modern scope only became possible after 1827, when Robert Brown established the existence of truly naked ovules in the Cycadeae and Coniferae, and applied to them the name Gymnosperms. From that time onwards, so long as these Gymnosperms were, as was usual, reckoned as dicotyledonous flowering plants, the term Angiosperm was used antithetically by botanical writers, with varying scope, as a group-name for other dicotyledonous plants.

In 1851, Hofmeister discovered the changes occurring in the embryo-sac of flowering plants, and determined the correct relationships of these to the Cryptogamia. This fixed the position of Gymnosperms as a class distinct from Dicotyledons, and the term Angiosperm then gradually came to be accepted as the suitable designation for the whole of the flowering plants other than Gymnosperms, including the classes of Dicotyledons and Monocotyledons. This is the sense in which the term is used today.

In most taxonomies, the flowering plants are treated as a coherent group. The most popular descriptive name has been Angiospermae (Angiosperms), with Anthophyta ("flowering plants") a second choice. These names are not linked to any rank. The Wettstein system and the Engler system use the name Angiospermae, at the assigned rank of subdivision. The Reveal system treated flowering plants as subdivision Magnoliophytina (Frohne & U. Jensen ex Reveal, Phytologia 79: 70 1996), but later split it to Magnoliopsida, Liliopsida and Rosopsida. The Takhtajan system and Cronquist system treat this group at the rank of division, leading to the name Magnoliophyta (from the family name Magnoliaceae). The Dahlgren system and Thorne system (1992) treat this group at the rank of class, leading to the name Magnoliopsida. However, the APG system, of 1998, and the APG II system, of 2003, do not treat it as a formal taxon but rather treat it as a clade without a formal botanical name and use the name angiosperms for this clade.

Internal classification

The internal classification of this group has undergone considerable revision. The Cronquist system, proposed by Arthur Cronquist in 1968 and published in its full form in 1981, is still widely used, but is no longer believed to accurately reflect phylogeny. A general consensus about how the flowering plants should be arranged has recently begun to emerge, through the work of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, who published an influential reclassification of the angiosperms in 1998. An update incorporating more recent research was published as APG II in 2003.

Traditionally, the flowering plants are divided into two groups, which in the Cronquist system are called Magnoliopsida (at the rank of class, formed from the family name Magnoliacae) and Liliopsida (at the rank of class, formed from the family name Liliaceae). Other descriptive names allowed by Article 16 of the ICBN include Dicotyledones or Dicotyledoneae, and Monocotyledones or Monocotyledoneae, which have a long history of use. In English a member of either group may be called a dicotyledon (plural dicotyledons) and monocotyledon (plural monocotyledons), or abbreviated, as dicot (plural dicots) and monocot (plural monocots). These names derive from the observation that the dicots most often have two cotyledons, or embryonic leaves, within each seed. The monocots usually have only one, but the rule is not absolute either way. From a diagnostic point of view the number of cotyledons is neither a particularly handy nor reliable character.

Recent studies, as by the APG group, show that the monocots form holophyletic or monophyletic group; this clade is given the name monocots. However, the dicots are not (they are a paraphyletic group). Nevertheless, within the dicots cladic group does exist, called the eudicots or tricolpates, and including most of the dicots. The name tricolpates derives from a type of pollen found widely within this group. The name eudicots is formed combining dicot with the prefix eu- (from Greek, for "well," or "good," botanically indicating "true"), as the eudicots share the characters traditionally attributed to the dicots, such as flowers with four or five parts (four or five petals, four or five sepals). Separating this group of eudicots from the rest of the (former) dicots leaves a remainder, which sometimes are called informally palaeodicots (Greek prefix "palaeo-" means "old"). As this remnant group is not monophyletic this is a term of convenience only.

DNA studies identify 8 major groups among the flowering plants, Amborellales, Nymphaeales, Austrobaileyales, Chloranthales, Ceratophyllales, magnoliids, eudicots and monocots. The relationships between these groups are as yet unresolved.

Flowering plant diversity

The number of species of flowering plants is estimated to be in the range of 250,000 to 400,000. The number of families in APG (1998) was 462. In APG II (2003) it is not settled; at maximum it is 457, but within this number there are 55 optional segregates, so that the minimum number of families in this system is 402.

The diversty of flowering plants is not evenly distributed. Nearly all species belong to the eudicot (75%), monocot (23%) and magnoliid (2%) clades. The remaining 5 clades contain a little over 250 species in total, i.e. less than 0.1% of flowering plant diversity, divided among 9 families.

The most diverse families of flowering plants, in order of number of species, are:

In the list above (showing only the 10 largest families), the Orchidaceae, Poaceae, Cyperaceae and Araceae are monocot families; the others are dicot families.

Kingdom: Plantae


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