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Temporal range: Mesoproterozoic–present
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Clade: Diaphoretickes
(unranked): Archaeplastida
Kingdom: Plantae
H.F.Copel., 1956

see text

  • Viridiplantae Cavalier-Smith 1981[1]
  • Chlorobionta Jeffrey 1982, emend. Bremer 1985, emend. Lewis and McCourt 2004[2]
  • Chlorobiota Kenrick and Crane 1997[3]
  • Chloroplastida Adl et al., 2005 [4]
  • Phyta Barkley 1939 emend. Holt & Uidica 2007
  • Cormophyta Endlicher, 1836
  • Cormobionta Rothmaler, 1948
  • Euplanta Barkley, 1949
  • Telomobionta Takhtajan, 1964
  • Embryobionta Cronquist et al., 1966
  • Metaphyta Whittaker, 1969

Plants are the

endosymbiosis with cyanobacteria to produce sugars from carbon dioxide and water, using the green pigment chlorophyll. Exceptions are parasitic plants
that have lost the genes for chlorophyll and photosynthesis, and obtain their energy from other plants or fungi.

Historically, as in

liverworts, mosses, lycophytes, ferns, conifers and other gymnosperms, and flowering plants). A definition based on genomes includes the Viridiplantae, along with the red algae and the glaucophytes, in the clade Archaeplastida

There are about 380,000 known

produce seeds. They range in size from single cells to the tallest trees. Green plants provide a substantial proportion of the world's molecular oxygen; the sugars they create supply the energy for most of Earth's ecosystems and other organisms, including animals, either consume plants directly
or rely on organisms which do so.

for medicines. The scientific study of plants is known as botany, a branch of biology


Taxonomic history

All living things were traditionally placed into one of two groups, plants and

scientific classification, but retained the animal and plant kingdoms, naming the plant kingdom the Vegetabilia.[7]

Alternative concepts

When the name Plantae or plant is applied to a specific group of organisms or taxa, it usually refers to one of four concepts. From least to most inclusive, these four groupings are:

Name(s) Scope Organisation Description
Land plants, also known as Embryophyta Plantae sensu strictissimo Multicellular Plants in the strictest sense include
liverworts, hornworts, mosses, and vascular plants, as well as fossil plants similar to these surviving groups (e.g., Metaphyta Whittaker, 1969,[8] Plantae Margulis, 1971[9]
Green plants, also known as Viridiplantae, Viridiphyta, Chlorobionta or Chloroplastida Plantae sensu stricto Some unicellular, some multicellular Plants in a strict sense include the
stoneworts. The relationships between plant groups are still being worked out, and the names given to them vary considerably. The clade Viridiplantae encompasses a group of organisms that have cellulose in their cell walls, possess chlorophylls a and b and have plastids bound by only two membranes that are capable of photosynthesis and of storing starch. This clade is the main subject of this article (e.g., Plantae Copeland, 1956[10]
Archaeplastida, also known as Plastida or Primoplantae Plantae sensu lato Some unicellular, some multicellular Plants in a broad sense comprise the green plants listed above plus the red algae (
Glaucophyta) that store Floridean starch outside the plastids, in the cytoplasm. This clade includes all of the organisms that eons ago acquired their primary chloroplasts directly by engulfing cyanobacteria (e.g., Plantae Cavalier-Smith, 1981[11]
Old definitions of plant (obsolete) Plantae sensu amplo Some unicellular, some multicellular Plants in the widest sense included the unrelated groups of algae, fungi and bacteria on older, obsolete classifications (e.g. Plantae or Vegetabilia Linnaeus 1751,[12] Plantae Haeckel 1866,[13] Metaphyta Haeckel, 1894,[14] Plantae Whittaker, 1969[8]).



The desmid Cosmarium botrytis is a single cell.
The coast redwood Sequoia sempervirens is up to 380 feet (120 m) tall.

There are about 382,000 accepted

divisions. About 85–90% of all plants are flowering plants. Several projects are currently attempting to collect records on all plant species in online databases, e.g. the World Flora Online.[15][17]

Plants range in scale from

desmids (from 10 micrometres across) and picozoa (less than 3 micrometres across),[18][19] to the largest trees (megaflora) such as the conifer Sequoia sempervirens (up to 380 feet (120 m) tall ) and the angiosperm Eucalyptus regnans (up to 325 feet (99 m) tall ).[20]

Diversity of living green plant (Viridiplantae) divisions by number of species
Informal group Division name Common name No. of described living species
Green algae Chlorophyta Green algae (chlorophytes) 3800–4300 [21][22]
Charophyta Green algae (e.g. desmids & stoneworts) 2800–6000 [23][24]
Bryophytes Marchantiophyta Liverworts 6000–8000 [25]
Anthocerotophyta Hornworts 100–200 [26]
Bryophyta Mosses 12000 [27]
Pteridophytes Lycopodiophyta Clubmosses 1200 [28]
Polypodiophyta Ferns, whisk ferns & horsetails 11000 [28]

(seed plants)
Cycadophyta Cycads 160 [29]
Ginkgophyta Ginkgo 1 [30]
Pinophyta Conifers 630 [28]
Gnetophyta Gnetophytes 70 [28]
Angiospermae Flowering plants 258650 [31]

The naming of plants is governed by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants[32] and the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants.[33]

Evolutionary history

The ancestors of land plants evolved in water. An algal scum formed on the land 1,200 million years ago, but it was not until the Ordovician, around 450 million years ago, that the first land plants appeared, with a level of organisation like that of bryophytes.[34][35] However, fossils of organisms with a flattened thallus in Precambrian rocks suggest that multicellular freshwater eukaryotes existed over 1000 mya.[36]

Primitive land plants began to diversify in the late Silurian, around 420 million years ago. Bryophytes, club mosses, and ferns then appear in the fossil record.[37] Early plant anatomy is preserved in cellular detail in an early Devonian fossil assemblage from the Rhynie chert. These early plants were preserved by being petrified in chert formed in silica-rich volcanic hot springs.[38]

By the end of the Devonian, most of the basic features of plants today were present, including roots, leaves and

abominable mystery".[43][44][45] Conifers diversified from the Late Triassic onwards, and became a dominant part of floras in the Jurassic.[46][47]


In 2019, a

paraphyletic (vertical bars beside phylogenetic tree diagram) in this analysis, as the land plants arose from within those groups.[49][50] The classification of Bryophyta is supported both by Puttick et al. 2018,[51] and by phylogenies involving the hornwort genomes that have also since been sequenced.[52][53]








(green plants)
"chlorophyte algae"
"streptophyte algae"


Plant cells

Plant cell structure

Plant cells have distinctive features that other eukaryotic cells (such as those of animals) lack. These include the large water-filled central vacuole, chloroplasts, and the strong flexible cell wall, which is outside the cell membrane. Chloroplasts are derived from what was once a symbiosis of a non-photosynthetic cell and photosynthetic cyanobacteria. The cell wall, made mostly of cellulose, allows plant cells to swell up with water without bursting. The vacuole allows the cell to change in size while the amount of cytoplasm stays the same.[54]

Plant structure

Terminal bud. 5. Leaf blade. 6. Internode. 7. Axillary bud. 8. Petiole. 9. Stem. 10. Node. 11. Tap root. 12. Root hairs. 13. Root tip. 14. Root cap

Most plants are

multicellular. Plant cells differentiate into multiple cell types, forming tissues such as the vascular tissue with specialized xylem and phloem of leaf veins and stems, and organs with different physiological functions such as roots to absorb water and minerals, stems for support and to transport water and synthesized molecules, leaves for photosynthesis, and flowers for reproduction.[55]


Plants photosynthesize, manufacturing food molecules (sugars) using energy obtained from light. Plant cells contain chlorophylls inside their chloroplasts, which are green pigments that are used to capture light energy. The end-to-end chemical equation for photosynthesis is:[56]

This causes plants to release oxygen into the atmosphere. Green plants provide a substantial proportion of the world's molecular oxygen, alongside the contributions from photosynthetic algae and cyanobacteria.[57][58][59]

Plants that have secondarily adopted a parasitic lifestyle may lose the genes involved in photosynthesis and the production of chlorophyll.[60]

Growth and repair

Growth is determined by the interaction of a plant's genome with its physical and biotic environment.[61] Factors of the physical or abiotic environment include temperature, water, light, carbon dioxide, and nutrients in the soil.[62] Biotic factors that affect plant growth include crowding, grazing, beneficial symbiotic bacteria and fungi, and attacks by insects or plant diseases.[63]

Frost and dehydration can damage or kill plants. Some plants have antifreeze proteins, heat-shock proteins and sugars in their cytoplasm that enable them to tolerate these stresses.[64] Plants are continuously exposed to a range of physical and biotic stresses which cause DNA damage, but they can tolerate and repair much of this damage.[65]


Plants reproduce to generate offspring, whether sexually, involving gametes, or asexually, involving ordinary growth. Many plants use both mechanisms.[66]


(2n) sporophyte (bottom), in all types of plant

When reproducing sexually, plants have complex lifecycles involving

carpels or ovaries, which develop into fruits that contain seeds. Fruits may be dispersed whole, or they may split open and the seeds dispersed individually.[68]


Ficinia spiralis spreads asexually with runners in the sand.

Plants reproduce asexually by growing any of a wide variety of structures capable of growing into new plants. At the simplest, plants such as mosses or liverworts may be broken into pieces, each of which may regrow into whole plants. The propagation of flowering plants by cuttings is a similar process. Structures such as runners enable plants to grow to cover an area, forming a clone. Many plants grow food storage structures such as tubers or bulbs which may each develop into a new plant.[69]

Some non-flowering plants, such as many liverworts, mosses and some clubmosses, along with a few flowering plants, grow small clumps of cells called gemmae which can detach and grow.[70][71]

Disease resistance

Plants use pattern-recognition receptors to recognize pathogens such as bacteria that cause plant diseases. This recognition triggers a protective response. The first such plant receptors were identified in rice[72] and in Arabidopsis thaliana.[73]


Plants have some of the largest genomes of all organisms.[74] The largest plant genome (in terms of gene number) is that of wheat (Triticum aestivum), predicted to encode ≈94,000 genes[75] and thus almost 5 times as many as the human genome. The first plant genome sequenced was that of Arabidopsis thaliana which encodes about 25,500 genes.[76] In terms of sheer DNA sequence, the smallest published genome is that of the carnivorous bladderwort (Utricularia gibba) at 82 Mb (although it still encodes 28,500 genes)[77] while the largest, from the Norway spruce (Picea abies), extends over 19.6 Gb (encoding about 28,300 genes).[78]



montane forests. Shown in gray is "ice sheet
and polar desert" devoid of plants.

Plants are distributed almost worldwide. While they inhabit several biomes which can be divided into a multitude of ecoregions,[79] only the hardy plants of the Antarctic flora, consisting of algae, mosses, liverworts, lichens, and just two flowering plants, have adapted to the prevailing conditions on that southern continent.[80]

Plants are often the dominant physical and structural component of the habitats where they occur. Many of the Earth's biomes are named for the type of vegetation because plants are the dominant organisms in those biomes, such as grassland, savanna, and tropical rainforest.[81]

Primary producers

The photosynthesis conducted by land plants and algae is the ultimate source of energy and organic material in nearly all ecosystems. Photosynthesis, at first by cyanobacteria and later by photosynthetic eukaryotes, radically changed the composition of the early Earth's anoxic atmosphere, which as a result is now 21%

anaerobic environments. Plants are the primary producers in most terrestrial ecosystems and form the basis of the food web in those ecosystems.[82] Plants form about 80% of the world biomass at about 450 gigatonnes (4.4×1011 long tons; 5.0×1011 short tons) of carbon.[83]

Ecological relationships

Numerous animals have coevolved with plants; flowering plants have evolved pollination syndromes, suites of flower traits that favour their reproduction. Many, including insect and bird partners, are pollinators, visiting flowers and accidentally transferring pollen in exchange for food in the form of pollen or nectar.[84]

Many animals disperse seeds that are adapted for such dispersal. Various mechanisms of dispersal have evolved. Some fruits offer nutritious outer layers attractive to animals, while the seeds are adapted to survive the passage through the animal's gut; others have hooks that enable them to attach to a mammal's fur.[85] Myrmecophytes are plants that have coevolved with ants. The plant provides a home, and sometimes food, for the ants. In exchange, the ants defend the plant from herbivores and sometimes competing plants. Ant wastes serve as organic fertilizer.[86]

The majority of plant species have fungi associated with their root systems in a mutualistic symbiosis known as mycorrhiza. The fungi help the plants gain water and mineral nutrients from the soil, while the plant gives the fungi carbohydrates manufactured in photosynthesis.[87] Some plants serve as homes for

tall fescue grass has pest status in the American cattle industry.[88]


Some 1% of plants are parasitic. They range from the semi-parasitic mistletoe that merely takes some nutrients from its host, but still has photosynthetic leaves, to the fully-parasitic broomrape and toothwort that acquire all their nutrients through connections to the roots of other plants, and so have no chlorophyll. Full parasites can be extremely harmful to their plant hosts.[91]

Plants that grow on other plants, usually trees, without parasitizing them, are called

bromeliads, ferns, and mosses grow as epiphytes.[92] Among the epiphytes, the bromeliads accumulate water in their leaf axils; these water-filled cavities can support complex aquatic food webs.[93]

Some 630 species of plants are

sundew (Drosera species). They trap small animals and digest them to obtain mineral nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus.[94]


Competition for shared resources reduces a plant's growth.[95][96] Shared resources include sunlight, water and nutrients. Light is a critical resource because it is necessary for photosynthesis.[95] Plants use their leaves to shade other plants from sunlight and grow quickly to maximize their own expose.[95] Water too is essential for photosynthesis; roots compete to maximize water uptake from soil.[97] Some plants have deep roots that are able to locate water stored deep underground, and others have shallower roots that are capable of extending longer distances to collect recent rainwater.[97] Minerals are important for plant growth and development.[98] Common nutrients competed for amongst plants include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.[99]

Importance to humans


Harvesting oats with a combine harvester

Human cultivation of plants is the core of

lipids, while fruit and vegetables contribute vitamins and minerals to the diet.[103] Coffee, tea, and chocolate are major crops whose caffeine-containing products serve as mild stimulants.[104] The study of plant uses by people is called economic botany or ethnobotany.[105]


A medieval physician preparing an extract from a medicinal plant, from an Arabic Dioscorides, 1224

Dioscorides, De materia medica, describing some 600 medicinal plants, was written between 50 and 70 CE and remained in use in Europe and the Middle East until around 1600 CE; it was the precursor of all modern pharmacopoeias.[109][110][111]

Nonfood products

Timber in storage for later processing at a sawmill

Plants grown as industrial crops are the source of a wide range of products used in manufacturing.

geological time.[115] Many of the coal fields date to the Carboniferous period of Earth's history. Terrestrial plants also form type III kerogen, a source of natural gas.[116][117]

Structural resources and fibres from plants are used to construct dwellings and to manufacture clothing. Wood is used for buildings, boats, and furniture, and for smaller items such as musical instruments and sports equipment. Wood is pulped to make paper and cardboard.[118] Cloth is often made from cotton, flax, ramie or synthetic fibres such as rayon, derived from plant cellulose. Thread used to sew cloth likewise comes in large part from cotton.[119]

Ornamental plants

A rose espalier at Niedernhall in Germany

Thousands of plant species are cultivated for their beauty and to provide shade, modify temperatures, reduce wind, abate noise, provide privacy, and reduce soil erosion. Plants are the basis of a multibillion-dollar per year tourism industry, which includes travel to historic gardens, national parks, rainforests, forests with colourful autumn leaves, and festivals such as Japan's[120] and America's cherry blossom festivals.[121]

Plants may be grown indoors as

sensitive plant and resurrection plant are sold as novelties. Art forms specializing in the arrangement of cut or living plant include bonsai, ikebana, and the arrangement of cut or dried flowers. Ornamental plants have sometimes changed the course of history, as in tulipomania.[122]

In science

Barbara McClintock used maize to study inheritance of traits.


Tree rings provide a method of dating in archeology, and a record of past climates.[127] The study of plant fossils, or Paleobotany, provides information about the evolutions of plants, paleogeographical reconstructions, and past climate change. Plant fossils can also help determine the age of rocks.[128]

In mythology, religion, and culture

Plants including

Native American religions, the world tree motif is depicted as a colossal tree growing on the earth, supporting the heavens, and with its roots reaching into the underworld. It may also appear as a cosmic tree or an eagle and serpent tree.[132][133] Forms of the world tree include the archetypal tree of life, which is in turn connected to the Eurasian concept of the sacred tree.[134] Another widespread ancient motif, found for example in Iran, has a tree of life flanked by a pair of confronted animals.[135]

Flowers are often used as memorials, gifts and to mark special occasions such as births, deaths, weddings and holidays. Flower arrangements may be used to send hidden messages.[136] Plants and especially flowers form the subjects of many paintings.[137][138]

Negative effects

The musk thistle is an invasive species in Texas.

Weeds are commercially or aesthetically undesirable plants growing in managed environments such as in agriculture and gardens.[139] People have spread many plants beyond their native ranges; some of these plants have become invasive, damaging existing ecosystems by displacing native species, and sometimes becoming serious weeds of cultivation.[140]

Some plants that produce

hay fever.[141] Many plants produce toxins to protect themselves from herbivores. Major classes of plant toxins include alkaloids, terpenoids, and phenolics.[142] These can be harmful to humans and livestock by ingestion[143][144] or, as with poison ivy, by contact.[145] Some plants have negative effects on other plants, preventing seedling growth or the growth of nearby plants by releasing allopathic chemicals.[146]

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Further reading


Species estimates and counts:

External links

Botanical and vegetation databases
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