Before our landscapes were dominated by flowering plants (Angiosperms), ferns covered terrestrial areas. Ferns and fern allies are collectively known as pteridophytes. The word pteridophyte is derived from two words Pteron, meaning feather and phyton, meaning plant - referring to the feather-like leaves. Not all pteridophytes have feather-like leaves however, some even have no leaves at all.
How to pronounce Pteridophyte: tuh-rid-uh-fahyt
Pteridophytes were the first group of plants with a vascular tissue system for the transport of water and nutrients up and down the plant, called xylem and phloem. What makes pteridophytes so different from other members of the Plant Kingdom is that they do not reproduce through seeds, but instead, they proliferate through spores. If you’re not sure what spores are, find a Boston fern or Maidenhair fern and turn the leaf around. You will see little brown specks dotted all over the underside of the leaf. These specks are spore cases called sporangia, or sori. In some fern species, sporangia are only carried on certain leaves and not others.
Pteridophytes include plants like true ferns, horsetails, clubmosses and selaginellas. They range greatly in size, from the tiny Azolla cristata (measuring a mere 0.5–1.5 cm) to the largest tree fern Sphaeropteris cooperi that can reach up to 20 m high.
Pteridophytes are the second most diverse group of land plants, with flowering plants being the first. Their greatest diversity is found in the tropics and the majority of terrestrial pteridophytes prefer to grow in cool, moist and shady environments. Many ferns that grow in tropical rainforests are epiphytic, meaning they grow on other plant species, some are purely aquatic like Marsilea, and some are xerophytic like Equisetum and Selaginella.
Now that you’ve added another term to your Garden Dictionary, see how many pteridophytes you can spot and bookmark them in the Knowledgebase to add them to your Saved items.