Agriculture is almost entirely dependent on angiosperms, and a small number of flowering plant families supply nearly all plant-based food and livestock feed. Rice, maize, and wheat provide half of the world's calorie intake, and all three plants are cereals from the Poaceae family (colloquially known as grasses). Other families provide materials such as wood, paper and cotton, and supply numerous ingredients for traditional and modern medicines. Flowering plants are also commonly grown for decorative purposes, with certain flowers playing a significant role in many cultures.
The largest angiosperms are Eucalyptus gum trees of Australia, and Shorea faguetiana, dipterocarp rainforest trees of Southeast Asia, both of which can reach almost 100 metres (330 ft) in height. The smallest are Wolffia duckweeds which float on freshwater, each plant less than 2 millimetres (0.08 in) across.
Photosynthetic and parasitic
Gunnera captures sunlight for photosynthesis over the large surfaces of its leaves, which are supported by strong veins.
Dryas octopetala, the mountain avens, lives in cold arctic and montane habitats in the far north of America and Eurasia.
Nelumbo nucifera, the sacred lotus, grows in warm freshwater across tropical and subtropical Asia.
Zostera seagrass grows on the seabed in sheltered coastal waters.
In terms of their environment, flowering plants are cosmopolitan, occupying a wide range of habitats on land, in fresh water and in the sea. On land, they are the dominant plant group in every habitat except for frigid moss-lichen tundra and coniferous forest. The seagrasses in the Alismatales grow in marine environments, spreading with rhizomes that grow through the mud in sheltered coastal waters.
The number of species of flowering plants is estimated to be in the range of 250,000 to 400,000. This compares to around 12,000 species of moss and 11,000 species of pteridophytes. The APG system seeks to determine the number of families, mostly by molecular phylogenetics. In the 2009 APG III there were 415 families. The 2016 APG IV added five new orders (Boraginales, Dilleniales, Icacinales, Metteniusales and Vahliales), along with some new families, making a total of 64 angiosperm orders and 416 families.
The diversity of flowering plants is not evenly distributed. Nearly all species belong to the eudicot (75%), monocot (23%), and magnoliid (2%) clades. The remaining five clades contain a little over 250 species in total; i.e. less than 0.1% of flowering plant diversity, divided among nine families. The 25 most species-rich of 443 families, containing over 166,000 species between them in their APG circumscriptions, are:
The botanical term "angiosperm", from Greek words angeíon (ἀγγεῖον 'bottle, vessel') and spérma (σπέρμα 'seed'), was coined in the form "Angiospermae" by Paul Hermann in 1690, including only flowering plants whose seeds were enclosed in capsules. The term angiosperm fundamentally changed in meaning in 1827 with Robert Brown, when angiosperm came to mean a seed plant with enclosed ovules. In 1851, with Wilhelm Hofmeister's work on embryo-sacs, Angiosperm came to have its modern meaning of all the flowering plants including Dicotyledons and Monocotyledons. The APG system treats the flowering plants as an unranked clade without a formal Latin name (angiosperms). A formal classification was published alongside the 2009 revision in which the flowering plants rank as the subclass Magnoliidae. From 1998, the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) has reclassified the angiosperms, with updates in the APG II system in 2003, the APG III system in 2009, and the APG IV system in 2016.
Fossilised spores suggest that land plants (embryophytes) have existed for at least 475 million years. However, angiosperms appear suddenly and in great diversity in the fossil record in the Early Cretaceous (~130 mya). Claimed records of flowering plants prior to this are not widely accepted. Molecular evidence suggests that the ancestors of angiosperms diverged from the gymnosperms during the late Devonian, about 365 million years ago. The origin time of the crown group of flowering plants remains contentious. By the Late Cretaceous, angiosperms appear to have dominated environments formerly occupied by ferns and gymnosperms. Large canopy-forming trees replaced conifers as the dominant trees close to the end of the Cretaceous, 66 million years ago. The radiation of herbaceous angiosperms occurred much later.
The characteristic feature of angiosperms is the flower. Its function is to ensure fertilization of the ovule and development of fruit containing seeds. It may arise terminally on a shoot or from the axil of a leaf. The flower-bearing part of the plant is usually sharply distinguished from the leaf-bearing part, and forms a branch-system called an inflorescence.
The flower may consist only of these parts, as in wind-pollinated plants like the willow, where each flower comprises only a few stamens or two carpels. In insect- or bird-pollinated plants, other structures protect the sporophylls and attract pollinators. The individual members of these surrounding structures are known as sepals and petals (or tepals in flowers such as Magnolia where sepals and petals are not distinguishable from each other). The outer series (calyx of sepals) is usually green and leaf-like, and functions to protect the rest of the flower, especially the bud. The inner series (corolla of petals) is, in general, white or brightly colored, is more delicate in structure, and attracts pollinators by colour, scent, and nectar.
Most flowers are hermaphrodite, producing both pollen and ovules in the same flower, but some use other devices to reduce self-fertilization. Heteromorphic flowers have carpels and stamens of differing lengths, so animal pollinators cannot easily transfer pollen between them. Homomorphic flowers may use a biochemical self-incompatibility to discriminate between self and non-self pollen grains. Dioecious plants such as holly have male and female flowers on separate plants.Monoecious plants have separate male and female flowers on the same plant; these are often wind-pollinated, as in maize, but include some insect-pollinated plants such as Cucurbita squashes.
Double fertilization requires two sperm cells to fertilise cells in the ovule. A pollen grain sticks to the stigma at the top of the pistil, germinates, and grows a long pollen tube. A haploid generative cell travels down the tube behind the tube nucleus. The generative cell divides by mitosis to produce two haploid (n) sperm cells. The pollen tube grows from the stigma, down the style and into the ovary. When it reaches the micropyle of the ovule, it digests its way into one of the synergids, releasing its contents including the sperm cells. The synergid that the cells were released into degenerates; one sperm makes its way to fertilise the egg cell, producing a diploid (2n) zygote. The second sperm cell fuses with both central cell nuclei, producing a triploid (3n) cell. The zygote develops into an embryo; the triploid cell develops into the endosperm, the embryo's food supply. The ovary develops into a fruit. and each ovule into a seed.
As the embryo and endosperm develop, the wall of the embryo sac enlarges and combines with the nucellus and integument to form the seed coat. The ovary wall develops to form the fruit or pericarp, whose form is closely associated with type of seed dispersal system.
Other parts of the flower often contribute to forming the fruit. For example, in the apple, the hypanthium forms the edible flesh, surrounding the ovaries which form the tough cases around the seeds.
Apomixis, setting seed without fertilization, is found naturally in about 2.2% of angiosperm genera. Some angiosperms, including many citrus varieties, are able to produce fruits through a type of apomixis called nucellar embryony.
Agriculture is almost entirely dependent on angiosperms, which provide virtually all plant-based food and livestock feed. Much of this food derives from a small number of flowering plant families. For instance, half of the world's calorie intake is supplied by just three plants - wheat, rice and maize.
Conservation in this context is the attempt to prevent extinction, whether in situ by protecting plants and their habitats in the wild, or ex situ in seed banks or as living plants. Some 3000 botanic gardens around the world maintain living plants, including over 40% of the species known to be threatened, as an "insurance policy against extinction in the wild." The United Nations' Global Strategy for Plant Conservation asserts that "without plants, there is no life". It aims to "halt the continuing loss of plant diversity" throughout the world.
^"Menara, yellow meranti, Shorea". Guinness World Records. 6 January 2019. Retrieved 8 May 2023. yellow meranti (Shorea faguetiana) ... 98.53 m (323 ft 3.1 in) tall ... swamp gum (Eucalyptus regnans) ... In 2014, it had a tape-drop height of 99.82 m (327 ft 5.9 in)
^ abSalisbury, Frank B.; Parke, Robert V. (1970). "Sexual Reproduction". In Salisbury, Frank B.; Parke, Robert V. (eds.). Vascular Plants: Form and Function. Fundamentals of Botany Series. London: Macmillan Education. pp. 185–195. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-00364-8_13. ISBN978-1-349-00364-8.
^Eriksson, O. (2008). "Evolution of Seed Size and Biotic Seed Dispersal in Angiosperms: Paleoecological and Neoecological Evidence". International Journal of Plant Sciences. 169 (7): 863–870. doi:10.1086/589888. S2CID52905335.
^"Fruit Anatomy". Fruit & Nut Research & Information Center. University of California. Archived from the original on 2 May 2023.