Flowering plants are extremely popular and get most of the attention these days. And with good reason. Not only do they look good, but most of our food comes from flowering plants.
But not all plants produce flowers. There are actually several different types of plants that don’t flower – including some that still produce seeds. Flowering plants are actually pretty young, and some of the types of plants that were around before them can still be found growing today.
Do All Plants Flower?
If you’re wondering: Do all plants flower? The answer is a resounding no! Not even all plants that produce seeds have flowers. (Think of pine trees, for example.)
There are multiple classifications of plants that produce seeds. The two most well known are angiosperms and gymnosperms.
Angiosperms – The Flowering Plants
All flowering plants belong to the family Angiosperms. You’re probably familiar with a large variety of angiosperms, including decorative plants such as marigolds and edible plants such as blueberries and apples. (Even plants such as wheat and rice.)
The first angiosperm opened its first flower around 174 million years ago, which isn’t really that long ago when you’re talking about plants. There are a lot of types of plants that are a lot older.
Angiosperms are different from other plants because they develop flowers to attract pollinators, and then their seed is enclosed in a fruit.
This difference helps distinguish angiosperms from gymnosperms, which neither flower nor produce fruit. Gymnosperms also have a seed, but it’s exposed instead of being enclosed in a fruit.
Gymnosperms – Produce Seeds But Not Flowers
Gymnosperms are plants that produce seeds but not flowers. Gymnosperm seeds are called “naked seeds” and are enclosed in cones. Some examples of gymnosperms include pine trees, fir trees, and spruce trees.
A few of the oldest living gymnosperms are the Wollemi Pine, which is more than 60 million years old, and the Ginko Bilboa tree, which is more than 200 million years old. Not that these are the only ones, just a few worth mentioning.
Gymnosperms are the only plants left that produce seeds but not flowers.
There used to be another type of seed producing plant that didn’t flower – known colloquially as “seed ferns”, but those are all extinct. The last one went extinct around 66 million years ago.
Plants that Don’t Produce Seeds
No plant that doesn’t reproduce using seeds creates flowers. Among those that are still alive (and I’ll only talk about land plants here but algae and other non-seed-producing aquatic plants don’t flower either), they are divided up into lycopods, Ferns, and bryophytes.
Bryophytes are non-vascular plants and are mostly made up of mosses. Lycopods are similar – made up of mostly clubmosses – but are vascular plants.
Ferns are the last type of plant we’ll talk about that doesn’t produce a seed. These are some of my favorite plants, and they reproduce by spreading spores instead of by flowering or dropping seeds. The oldest living fern is the cinnamon fern, which is at least 70 million years old. The first ferns are at least 360 million years old.
Types of Flowering Plants (Angiosperms)
Angiosperms are divided into 3 types of plants: basal angiosperms ( including magnoliids), monocots, and dicots.
Basal angiosperms and magnoliids are the most primitive (and oldest) form of flowering plant. They don’t have much, if any, separation between their petals and sepals. (Sepals are the green ‘leaves’ attached to the flowers. An example would be the green ‘hat’ on top of eggplants at the store.)
Examples of these plants include:
- Avocado Trees
- Water Lillies
Monocots are flowering plants where the seedling only contains one leaf (cotyledon). These are primarily grass-like plants.
Examples of monocots include:
- Palm Trees
Dicots, also known as Eudicots, are flowering plants where the seedling contains two leaves (cotyledons). Dicots make up most of the flowering plants you’ll find.
Examples of dicots include:
- Oak Trees
The internal classification of angiosperms has undergone considerable change in recent years. The original Cronquist system, proposed in 1968, was first published in full form in 1981, and it is no longer considered to accurately reflect phylogeny.
In recent years, the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group has worked to establish a consensus on the arrangement of flowering plants, including the Angiosperms. In 1998, the group published an influential reclassification of angiosperms, known as APG. In 2016, it was reclassified once again, and it has been referred to as APG IV.
All this to say that while these classifications are true today, you can be sure that scientists are sitting around looking for ways to change the classifications in the future.
Do All Flowering Plants Produce Pollen?
All flowering plants produce pollen. Pollen is part of how flowering plants reproduce and spread their genetic material.
There are so called ‘no pollen’ plants that are grown by allergy sufferers, but those are mostly plants that produce very little pollen and/or whose pollen doesn’t travel by wind. (Thus reducing allergies.)
Even plants that don’t produce flowers (the gymnosperms) still use pollen to ensure genetic diversity in their seeds. This is why plants grown from seed aren’t always the same as their parents.
In conclusion, not all plants produce flowers. Sure, there are more flowering plants (at over 250,000 species) than there are any other type of plant, but non-flowering plants are still very successful and can be found everywhere.