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Vascular Plants

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Biology

Palm trees lining the road in a sunny place, ferns coating the ground in a thick, damp forest, cacti dotting the landscape in the arid desert: what do these plants all have in common? They are all part of a large group of plants known as the tracheophytes, or vascular plants.

Vascular plants have vascular tissue that has helped them thrive as terrestrial organisms. Vascular plants have xylem and phloem, special tissues that conduct water and food. Conducting water, food, and nutrients within the plant makes it easier to survive in and adapt to different environments.

Vascular Plants: Definition

What makes a vascular plant? Vascular plants share a common trait that separates them from other plants, a vascular system. This vascular system is composed of xylem and phloem tissue, which help transport nutrients, carbohydrates (sugars), and water throughout the plant.

Two other characteristics that define vascular plants are:

  1. Their roots, leaves, and stems are “true” because they have vascular tissue.

  2. The sporophyte, or diploid, generation is the dominant generation (the plant’s generation spends most of its life cycle in).

A Successful Adaptation

The vascular plants make up 80% of all plant species. In other words, most plants on earth are vascular plants! What is the advantage of having a vascular system?

Think about it for a second: if you couldn’t move and didn’t have a way to transport water from one part of your body to another, it would be easy to dry out quickly unless in a damp environment. Thus, having a vascular system is beneficial for living on land.

Additionally, non-vascular plants that live on land are often small because, without a way to transport nutrients and water within themselves, the plant cannot grow as large. The evolution of the vascular system in plants allowed vascular plants to grow larger and occupy different niches. Thus, contributing to the variety of sizes we see today, from ferns to giant sequoia trees.

The Vascular System in Plants

Think about what your own vascular system does for you: it transports oxygen, nutrients, and essential chemicals from one part of your body to another. Without it, it would be impossible to carry out daily functions, like breathing and absorbing nutrients. In vascular plants, their vascular system plays a similarly important role.

Plants carry out photosynthesis, which uses carbon dioxide, water, and photons from the sun to make carbohydrates that the plant can use to carry out life processes necessary for survival. Therefore, having a vascular system to transport water from the roots to leaves, where photosynthesis occurs, and to transport sugars produced in the leaves to other locations in the plant is important.

Vascular Tissue in Plants

The vascular tissue in plants is called the xylem and phloem. The primary responsibility of the xylem tissue is to transport water and minerals from the roots to the leaves or other parts of the plant. The phloem is used to transport sugars, which function as food for the plant, to parts that cannot produce their own food.

Vascular tissue provides structural support for the plant and varies in arrangement and complexity depending on the group of plants. Typically, the xylem and phloem are packed together, forming vascular bundles (Fig. 1). The tissues’ arrangement creates tubes that run the length of the plant.

Vascular bundles are the veins that transport water and nutrients throughout plants, formed from the xylem and phloem tissues running the length of the leaf, root, or stem in which it is in.

Vascular Plants Cross-section of a sunflower, with xylem and phloem Berkshire Community College Bioscience Image Library, Photographer: Fayette A. Reynolds M.S.StudySmarterFigure 1: A cross-section of a sunflower stem showing the vascular bundles, xylem, and phloem. Source: Berkshire Community College Bioscience Image Library, Photographer: Fayette A. Reynolds M.S.

Xylem

The xylem of plants consists of cells that are not alive and fortified with a protein called lignin. Lignin provides structural support for the xylem tissue and the plant, and the cells that contain this protein are known as “lignified”.

Flower-producing plants (angiosperms) have xylem made up of two types of cells: tracheids and vessel elements. Other groups, including the gymnosperms (conifers, etc.) and ferns and their allies, only have tracheids that make up the xylem tissue.

Phloem

Phloem consists of alive elongated cells which are not “lignified” like the xylem cells.

In gymnosperms and the ferns and their relatives, the phloem is made up of sieve cells. In flowering plants (angiosperms), the cells are called sieve tubes and feature some structural differences from the cells of other vascular plants.

How Does the Vascular System Work?

In a vascular plant, the leaves lose water through a process known as transpiration. This is the evaporation of water that occurs when the leaves open small pores between their cells called stomata, which allow carbon dioxide necessary for photosynthesis into the plant. Stomata can be opened and closed to let in gas while reducing water loss; however, some water still evaporates.

This evaporation decreases the water pressure at the point of transpiration, causing water to be absorbed by the roots and pulled upwards through the xylem tissue to the leaves, replacing the water lost. The xylem only flows in one direction, from roots to leaves.

The phloem can move in both directions through the vascular plant, as the sugars and nutrients move from sources (leaves, places where photosynthesis happens) to sinks (roots, places of growth). This process of the sugars moving from souse to sink is known as translocation. The theory behind transport through the phloem is that the influx of sugars causes water (from the xylem) to rush into the phloem, creating pressure and a solution that moves toward the sink. This is known as the pressure-flow hypothesis.

Examples of Vascular Plants

Vascular plants are also called tracheophytes, but they are split up into several groups based on their properties. Most notably, the non-seed producing and the seed-producing groups.

The non-seed producing groups include ferns, clubmosses, and horsetails. Instead of seeds, members of this group have an alternation of generations or the switch between diploid and haploid plant generations. The sporophyte generation is the dominant generation, like in other vascular plants.

Seed-producing plants are split up into gymnosperms (conifers, etc.) and angiosperms (flower-producing). Gymnosperm seeds are referred to as naked because they are typically exposed on a leaf or a cone structure. However, the angiosperm seeds are covered in an ovary (e.g., a fruit).

The vascular tissue, its components, and its arrangement differ between the three groups of vascular plants: ferns and allies, gymnosperms, and angiosperms (Fig. 2).

Vascular Plants Examples of vascular plants: a ginkgo tree, a fern, and an apple tree.StudySmarterFigure 2: Examples of vascular plants: a fern (top right), a ginkgo tree (top left, a gymnosperm), and an apple tree (bottom, angiopserm). Source: pixabay.com.

Differences Between Vascular and Non-Vascular Plants

There are a few key differences to remember between vascular and non-vascular plants. The table below summarizes these differences (Table 1).

Table 1: Summary of the differences between vascular and non-vascular plants. StudySmarter Originals, Hailee Gibadlo.

Vascular plantsNon-vascular plants

Vascular plants have a vascular system consisting of the vascular tissues xylem and phloem to transport water and food.

Non-vascular plants do not have a vascular system or a way of transporting water and food throughout themselves.

Vascular plants have true roots, leaves, and stems because of the vascular system.Do not have true roots, leaves, and stems.

The dominant generation is the sporophyte or diploid generation—many different methods for fertilization (water, wind, animals).

The dominant generation is the gametophyte (haploid) generation, and they typically rely on water to fertilize and disperse.
Vascular plants can grow larger because of the presence of the vascular system. Non-vascular plants are smaller due to a lack of vascular systems.

Vascular plants are more diverse and have more adaptations that have allowed them to become ubiquitous- making up 80% of all plant species.

Non-vascular plants are less diverse than vascular plants, making up a significantly smaller percentage of all plant species.
Include the seed-producing (gymnosperms and angiosperms) and non-seed producing (ferns and relatives) groups. Include mosses, liverworts, and hornworts (none of these produce seeds).

Vascular Plants - Key Takeaways

  • Vascular plants are a group of plants characterized by having a vascular system, having true leaves, roots, etc., and having a dominant sporophyte (diploid) generation.
  • `The types of vascular tissue are xylem and phloem.
  • The xylem transports water and minerals from the roots to other parts of the plant. It only moves in one direction, root to shoot.
  • The phloem transports sugars (food) and nutrients from the sources (leaves) to the sinks (roots, non-photosynthesizing parts). The phloem can move both upwards and downwards through the plant.
  • Vascular plants include ferns and their allies (non-seed producing) and gymnosperms and angiosperms (seed-producing) groups.
  • Non-vascular plants do not have vascular systems, do not have true leaves, roots, etc., and have a dominant gametophyte (haploid) generation.

Vascular Plants

Vascular plants are a large group of plants, also called tracheophytes, which are mainly characterized by having a vascular system to transport water, food, and minerals within themselves. They include the angiosperms (flower-producing plants), gymnosperms, and ferns and their allies (horsetails, etc.). Vascular plants also have true roots, stems, and leaves and have a dominant sporophyte (diploid) generation. 


The role of the xylem is to transport water and minerals throughout the plant, particularly from the roots upwards, to the leaves and other parts in which water is needed. 

The vascular system of plants is much like that of other organisms in that its function is to act as a transport system for water, minerals, and sugars (food), throughout the plant.

The vascular tissue in plants is divided into the xylem, which transports water and minerals, and the phloem, which transports food and other nutrients. 

Vascular plants are a group of plants characterized by having a vascular system, having true leaves, roots, etc., and having a dominant sporophyte (diploid) generation. Examples include ferns and their allies, gymnosperms, and angiosperms (flower-producing) plants. 

Nonvascular plants do not have vascular systems, do not have true leaves, roots, etc., and have a dominant gametophyte (haploid) generation. Examples include mosses, hornworts, and liverworts. 

Final Vascular Plants Quiz

Question

Which of the following is NOT a characteristic of a vascular plant?

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Dominant gametophyte (haploid) generation

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What are the veins that transport water and nutrients throughout plants, formed from the xylem and phloem tissues?

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Vascular bundles

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True or false: Xylem cells are not alive and fortified with the protein lignin. 

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True

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True or false: Phloem cells are alive and are not fortified by the protein lignin.

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True

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Question

The evaporation of water through the leaves of vascular plants is known as...

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transpiration.

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a vascular plant?

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Answer

Mosses

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Which of the following is NOT a non-vascular plant?

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Clubmosses

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Which of the following is a property of the non-vascular plants?

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Does not have a vascular system

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True or false: Xylem conducts food (sugars) throughout vascular plants.

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False

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What is the purpose of the phloem?

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To conduct sugar (food) and nutrients throughout the plant.

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What is the purpose of the xylem?

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To conduct water and minerals from the roots to other parts of the plant like the leaves. 

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What is one piece of evidence that vascular plants are more diverse than non-vascular plants?

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The vascular plants make up 80% of all plant species and contain plants from giant sequoias to dandelions on the sidewalk.

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In vascular plants, the phloem is said to move from sources(leaves) to...

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sinks (roots, buds, etc.).

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What is the process of the sugars moving from source to sink in the phloem known as?

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It is known as translocation.

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Question

Which of the following is a vascular tissue in plants?

I- xylem

II-phloem

III- stomata

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I & II

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Which of the following is not a characteristic of a leaf? 

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A leaf absorbs water and nutrients from the soil.

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Which of the following statements about stomata are true?

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They are openings in the leaf surface.

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The palisade parenchyma cells of the mesophyll tissue are:

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Tightly packed beneath the upper epidermal layer.

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The spongy parenchyma cells of the mesophyll tissue are:

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Loosely packed and closer to the bottom epidermal layer.

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When the guard cells are filled with water, they curve, allowing the stomata to _____.

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Open

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Which of the following types of cells of the leaf contain chloroplasts and photosynthesize?

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Spongy parenchyma cells

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The epidermal cells of leaves secrete a waxy covering known as a ______.

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Cuticle

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The basic structure of an angiosperm leaf includes:

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Lamina: the photosynthetic tissue and veins.

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Stomata allow for:

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Gas exchange

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______ are defined as outgrowths of epidermal cells in plant leaves.

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Trichomes

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Which of the following is not a function of trichomes?

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Help open stomata

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______ is the excretion of water and minerals from small openings in the leaves similar to stomata


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Guttation

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Guttation usually occurs in humid climates where the plants have a ______ rate of transpiration.

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Low

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Guttation helps to relieve _________ in the roots of plants. 

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Water (hydrostatic) pressure

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True or False: Leaves can be used to store water for plants that live in arid climates. 

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True

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Asexual reproduction where a part of the plant capable of growing into a new plant gets separated from the parent plant is known as ________ __________.


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Vegetative propagation

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Bracts are....

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modified leaves that may appear to be flowers in some plant species, increasing the showiness of a flower to attract pollinators. 

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What is the purpose of the root?

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Absorb water and nutrients

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A root is a....

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mostly belowground plant organ. 

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T or F: Roots have vascular tissue, epidermal tissue, and ground tissue. 

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True

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What is the part that protects the actively growing part of the root called?

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A root cap.

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Which is not a zone in the part of root tip associated with growth?

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Zone of specialization

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Meristem tissue is tissue that contains cells that are _______ and are undergoing _______.

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Undifferentiated and cell division

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The ________ forces water and minerals to go through a selectively permeable membrane, protecting the plant from toxins and pathogens. 

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Casparian strip

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Secondary growth is lateral growth meaning it increases the ______ of the plant root.

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Width

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Primary growth in roots includes:

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Getting longer

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T or F: All plants have roots.

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False

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Which of the following is NOT a type of root system?

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Thin root system

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The taproot system occurs when the primary root, known as the ______, develops into the main root from which the lateral roots grow. 

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Radicle

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Which of the following is NOT a characteristic of fibrous root systems?

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They develop from the radicle or primary root

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____ _____ are modified epidermal cells that greatly increase the surface area of the roots, allowing them to absorb more water and minerals.


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Root hairs 

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_________ are openings in the epidermis that allow for gas exchange with the tissues below and remain open.


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Lenticels

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Pneumatophores are roots that contain lenticels and may characterize plants whose roots are...

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submerged in oxygen-poor water (i.e., swamps)

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In a group of plants known as the legumes, _____ _______exist to allow for the presence of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots. This is an example of a ________.

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Root nodules; Symbiosis

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What is the term for the middle, or center, part of the root that contains the vascular bundles and other ground tissue?

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Stele

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