Asisbiz photo collection of ‘Trees’.

A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to 6 m; some authors set a minimum of 10 cm trunk diameter (30 cm girth). Woody plants that do not meet these definitions by having multiple stems and/or small size, are called shrubs. Compared with most other plants, trees are long-lived, some reaching several thousand years old and growing to up to 115 m (379 ft) high.

Trees are an important component of the natural landscape because of their prevention of erosion and the provision of a weather-sheltered ecosystem in and under their foliage. They also play an important role in producing oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as well as moderating ground temperatures. They are also elements in landscaping and agriculture, both for their aesthetic appeal and their orchard crops (such as apples). Wood from trees is a building material, as well as a primary energy source in many developing countries. Trees also play a role in many of the world's mythologies (see trees in mythology).


A tree is a plant form that occurs in many different orders and families of plants. Trees show a variety of growth forms, leaf type and shape, bark characteristics, and reproductive organs.

The tree form has evolved separately in unrelated classes of plants, in response to similar environmental challenges, making it a classic example of parallel evolution. With an estimate of 100,000 tree species, the number of tree species worldwide might total 25 percent of all living plant species. The majority of tree species grow in tropical regions of the world and many of these areas have not been surveyed yet by botanists, making species diversity and ranges poorly understood.

The earliest trees were tree ferns, horsetails and lycophytes, which grew in forests in the Carboniferous Period; tree ferns still survive, but the only surviving horsetails and lycophytes are not of tree form. Later, in the Triassic Period, conifers, ginkgos, cycads and other gymnosperms appeared, and subsequently flowering plants in the Cretaceous Period. Most species of trees today are flowering plants (Angiosperms) and conifers. For the listing of examples of well-known trees and how they are classified, see List of tree genera.

A small group of trees growing together is called a grove or copse, and a landscape covered by a dense growth of trees is called a forest. Several biotopes are defined largely by the trees that inhabit them; examples are rainforest and taiga (see ecozones). A landscape of trees scattered or spaced across grassland (usually grazed or burned over periodically) is called a savanna. A forest of great age is called old growth forest or ancient woodland (in the UK). A young tree is called a sapling.


Tree roots anchor the structure and provide water and nutrients. The ground has eroded away around the roots of this young pine tree.

The parts of a tree are the roots, trunk(s), branches, twigs and leaves. Tree stems consist mainly of support and transport tissues (xylem and phloem). Wood consists of xylem cells, and bark is made of phloem and other tissues external to the vascular cambium. Trees may be grouped into exogenous and endogenous trees according to the way in which their stem diameter increases. Exogenous trees, which comprise the great majority of trees (all conifers, and almost all broadleaf trees), grow by the addition of new wood outwards, immediately under the bark. Endogenous trees, mainly in the monocotyledons (e.g., palms and dragon trees), but also cacti, grow by addition of new material inwards.

As an exogenous tree grows, it creates growth rings as new wood is laid down concentrically over the old wood. In species growing in areas with seasonal climate changes, wood growth produced at different times of the year may be visible as alternating light and dark, or soft and hard, rings of wood. In temperate climates, and tropical climates with a single wet-dry season alternation, the growth rings are annual, each pair of light and dark rings being one year of growth; these are known as annual rings. In areas with two wet and dry seasons each year, there may be two pairs of light and dark rings each year; and in some (mainly semi-desert regions with irregular rainfall), there may be a new growth ring with each rainfall. In tropical rainforest regions, with constant year-round climate, growth is continuous and the growth rings are not visible nor is there a change in the wood texture. In species with annual rings, these rings can be counted to determine the age of the tree, and used to date cores or even wood taken from trees in the past, a practice is known as the science of dendrochronology. Very few tropical trees can be accurately aged in this manner. Age determination is also impossible in endogenous trees.

The roots of a tree are generally embedded in earth, providing anchorage for the above-ground biomass and absorbing water and nutrients from the soil. It should be noted, however, that while ground nutrients are essential to a tree's growth the majority of its biomass comes from carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere (see photosynthesis). Above ground, the trunk gives height to the leaf-bearing branches, aiding in competition with other plant species for sunlight. In many trees, the arrangement of the branches optimizes exposure of the leaves to sunlight.

Not all trees have all the plant organs or parts mentioned above. For example, most palm trees are not branched, the saguaro cactus of North America has no functional leaves, tree ferns do not produce bark, etc. Based on their general shape and size, all of these are nonetheless generally regarded as trees. A plant form that is similar to a tree, but generally having smaller, multiple trunks and/or branches that arise near the ground, is called a shrub. However, no precise differentiation between shrubs and trees is possible. Given their small size, bonsai plants would not technically be 'trees', but one should not confuse reference to the form of a species with the size or shape of individual specimens. A spruce seedling does not fit the definition of a tree, but all spruces are trees.

Record breaking trees

The world's champion trees can be rated on height, trunk diameter or girth, total size, and age.

Tallest trees

The heights of the tallest trees in the world have been the subject of considerable dispute and much exaggeration. Modern verified measurement with laser rangefinders combined with tape drop measurements made by tree climbers, carried out by the U.S. Eastern Native Tree Society has shown that some older measuring methods and measurements are often unreliable, sometimes producing exaggerations of 5% to 15% above the real height. Historical claims of trees of 130 m (427 ft), and even 150 m (492 ft), are now largely disregarded as unreliable, and attributed to human error. Historical records of fallen trees measured prostrate on the ground are considered to be far more reliable. The following are now accepted as the top five tallest reliably measured species:

1. Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens): 115.56 m (379.1 ft), Redwood National Park, California, United States
2. Australian Mountain-ash (Eucalyptus regnans): 99.6 m (326.8 ft), south of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
3. Coast Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii): 99.4 m (326.1 ft), Brummit Creek, Coos County, Oregon, United States
4. Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis): 96.7 m (317.3 ft), Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, United States
5. Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum): 94.9 m (311.4 ft), Redwood Mountain Grove, Kings Canyon National Park, California, United States

A view of a tree from below; this may exaggerate apparent height

Stoutest trees

The girth of a tree is much easier to measure than the height, as it is a simple matter of stretching a tape round the trunk, and pulling it taut to find the circumference. Despite this, UK tree author Alan Mitchell made the following comment about measurements of yew trees:
“The aberrations of past measurements of yews are beyond belief. For example, the tree at Tisbury has a well-defined, clean, if irregular bole at least 1.5 m long. It has been found to have a girth which has dilated and shrunk in the following way: 11.28 m (1834 Loudon), 9.3 m (1892 Lowe), 10.67 m (1903 Elwes and Henry), 9.0 m (1924 E. Swanton), 9.45 m (1959 Mitchell). . . . Earlier measurements have therefore been omitted."

—Alan Mitchell; in a handbook "Conifers in the British Isles".

As a general standard, tree girth is taken at 'breast height'; this is defined differently in different situations, with most forestry measurements taking girth at 1.3 m above ground, while those who measure ornamental trees usually measure at 1.5 m above ground; in most cases this makes little difference to the measured girth. On sloping ground, the "above ground" reference point is usually taken as the highest point on the ground touching the trunk, but some use the average between the highest and lowest points of ground. Some of the inflated old measurements may have been taken at ground level. Some past exaggerated measurements also result from measuring the complete next-to-bark measurement, pushing the tape in and out over every crevice and buttress.

Modern trends are to cite the tree's diameter rather than the circumference; this is obtained by dividing the measured circumference by π; it assumes the trunk is circular in cross-section (an oval or irregular cross-section would result in a mean diameter slightly greater than the assumed circle). This is cited as dbh (diameter at breast height) in tree and forestry literature.

One further problem with measuring baobabs Adansonia is that these trees store large amounts of water in the very soft wood in their trunks. This leads to marked variation in their girth over the year (though not more than about 2.5%), swelling to a maximum at the end of the rainy season, minimum at the end of the dry season.

The stoutest living single-trunk species in diameter are:

1. African Baobab Adansonia digitata: 15 m (49 ft), Big Baobab, Limpopo Province, South Africa.
2. Montezuma Cypress Taxodium mucronatum: 11.62 m (38.1 ft), Árbol del Tule, Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico. Note though that this diameter includes buttressing; the actual idealised diameter of the area of its wood is 9.38 m (30.8 ft).
3. Giant Sequoia Sequoiadendron giganteum: 8.85 m (29 ft), General Grant tree, Grant Grove, California, United States
4. Coast Redwood Sequoia sempervirens: 7.44 m (24.4 ft), Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, United States.

Charles Darwin reported finding Fitzroya cupressoides with trunk circumferences of up to 40 m (130 ft) implying a diameter of about 12 m (40 ft), but this may be an anomaly as the largest known measurements are about 5 m.

An addition problem lies in cases where multiple trunks (whether from an individual tree or multiple trees) grow together. The Sacred Fig is a notable example of this, forming additional 'trunks' by growing adventitious roots down from the branches, which then thicken up when the root reaches the ground to form new trunks; a single Sacred Fig tree can have hundreds of such trunks.

Occasionally, errors may occur due to confusion between girth (circumference) and diameter.

Largest trees

The largest trees in total volume are those which are both tall and of large diameter, and in particular, which hold a large diameter high up the trunk. Measurement is very complex, particularly if branch volume is to be included as well as the trunk volume, so measurements have only been made for a small number of trees, and generally only for the trunk. No attempt has ever been made to include root volume. Measuring standards vary.

The top four species measured so far are:

1. Giant Sequoia Sequoiadendron giganteum: 1,487 m³ (52,508 cu ft), General Sherman
2. Coast Redwood Sequoia sempervirens: 1,203 m³ (42,500 cu ft), Lost Monarch
3. Montezuma Cypress Taxodium mucronatum: 750 m³ (25,000 cu ft), Árbol del Tule
4. Western Redcedar Thuja plicata: 500 m³ (17,650 cu ft ), Quinault Lake Redcedar
5. Kauri Agathis australis: circa 400 m³ (15,000 cu ft), Tane Mahuta tree (total volume, including branches, 516.7 m³/18,247 cu ft)

However, the Alerce Fitzroya cupressoides, as yet un-measured, may well slot in at fourth or fifth place. The largest angiosperm tree is currently a Tasmanian Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus) in Tasmania, with a volume of 368 m³.

Oldest trees

The oldest trees are determined by growth rings, which can be seen if the tree is cut down or in cores taken from the edge to the center of the tree. Accurate determination is only possible for trees which produce growth rings, generally those which occur in seasonal climates; trees in uniform non-seasonal tropical climates grow continuously and do not have distinct growth rings. It is also only possible for trees which are solid to the center of the tree; many very old trees become hollow as the dead heartwood decays away. For some of these species, age estimates have been made on the basis of extrapolating current growth rates, but the results are usually little better than guesswork or wild speculation. White (1998) proposes a method of estimating the age of large and veteran trees in the United Kingdom through the correlation between a tree's stem diameter, growth character and age.

The verified oldest measured ages are:

1. Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Methuselah) Pinus longaeva: 4,844 years
2. Alerce Fitzroya cupressoides: 3,622 years
3. Giant Sequoia Sequoiadendron giganteum: 3,266 years
4. Sugi Cryptomeria japonica: 3,000 years
5. Huon-pine Lagarostrobos franklinii: 2,500 years

Other species suspected of reaching exceptional age include Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba (over 3,500 years), European Yew Taxus baccata (probably over 2,000 years) and Western Redcedar Thuja plicata.

The oldest reported age for an angiosperm tree after the African Baobab (A. digitata) is 2293 years for the Sri Maha Bodhi Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa) planted in 288 BC at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka; this is also the oldest human-planted tree with a known planting date.


El Grande, about 280 feet high, the most massive (though not the tallest) Eucalyptus regnans was accidentally killed by loggers burning-off the remains of legally loggable trees (less than 280 ft) that had been felled all around it.

The two major sources of tree damage are biotic (from living sources) and abiotic (from non-living sources). Biotic sources would include insects which might bore into the tree, deer which might rub bark off the trunk, or fungi, which might attach themselves to the tree.

Abiotic sources include lightning, vehicles impacts, and construction activities. Construction activities can involve a number of damage sources, including grade changes that prevent aeration to roots, spills involving toxic chemicals such as cement or petroleum products, or severing of branches or roots.

Both damage sources can result in trees becoming dangerous, and the term "hazard trees" is commonly used by arborists, and industry groups such as power line operators. Hazard trees are trees which due to disease or other factors are more susceptible to falling during windstorms, or having parts of the tree fall.

The process of evaluating the danger a tree presents is based on a process called the Quantified Tree Risk Assessment.

Assessment as to labeling a tree a hazard tree can be based on a field examination. Assessment as a result of construction activities that will damage a tree is based on three factors; severity, extent and duration. Severity relates usually to the degree of intrusion into the TPZ and resultant root loss. Extent is frequently a percentage of a factor such as canopy, roots or bark, and duration is normally based on time. Root severing is considered permanent in time.

Trees are similar to people. Both can withstand massive amounts of some types of damage and survive, but even small amounts of certain types of trauma can result in death. Arborists are very aware that established trees will not tolerate any appreciable disturbance of the root system. However, lay people and construction professionals are seldom cognizant of how easily a tree can be killed.

One reason for confusion about tree damage from construction involves the dormancy of trees during winter. Another factor is that trees may not show symptoms of damage until 24-months or longer after damage has occurred. For that reason, persons uneducated in arboriculture science may not correlate the actual cause and resultant effect.

Various organizations, such as the International Society of Arboriculture, the British Standards Institute and the National Arborist Association (about 2007 renamed the Tree Industry Association), have long recognized the importance of construction activities that impact tree health. The impacts are important because they can result in monetary losses due to tree damage and resultant remediation or replacement costs, as well as violation of government ordinances or community or subdivision restrictions.

As a result, protocols for tree management prior to, during and after construction activities are well established, tested and refined. These basic steps are involved:

* Review of the construction plans
* Development of the related tree inventory
* Application of standard construction tree management protocols
* Assessment of potential for expected tree damages
* Development of a tree protection plan (providing for pre-, concurrent, and post construction damage prevention and remediation steps)
* Development of a tree protection plan
* Development of a remediation plan
* Implementation of tree protection zones (TPZ)
* Assessment of construction tree damage, post-construction
* Implementation of the remediation plan

International standards are uniform in analyzing damage potential and sizing TPZs (tree protection zones) to minimize damage. For mature to fully mature trees, the accepted TPZ comprises a 1.5-foot set-off for every 1-inch diameter of trunk. That means for a 10-inch tree, the TPZ would extend 15-feet in all directions from the base of the trunk at ground level.

For young/small trees with minimal crowns (and trunks less than 4-inches in diameter) a TPZ equal to 1-foot for every inch of trunk diameter may suffice. That means for a 3-inch tree, the TPZ would extend 3-feet in all directions from the base of the trunk at ground level. Detailed information on TPZs and related topics is available at minimal cost from organizations like the International Society for Arboriculture.

Trees in culture

The tree has always been a cultural symbol. Common icons are the World tree, for instance Yggdrasil, and the tree of life. The tree is often used to represent nature or the environment itself. A common misconception is that trees get most of their mass from the ground. In fact, 99% of a tree's mass comes from the air.

Tree value estimation

Studies have shown that trees contribute as much as 27% of the appraised land value in certain markets.
Basic tree values (varies by region) diameter
(inches)         value
(1985 US$)
10     $1,729
14     $3,388
18     $5,588
26     $11,682
30     $15,554

These most likely use diameter measured at breast height, 4.5 feet (140 cm) above ground—not the larger base diameter. A general model for any year and diameter is Value = 17.27939*( diameter ^2)*1.022^( year -1985) assuming 2.2% inflation per year. (Note, the right side of this equation is written to paste into Excel or Google to perform the calculation.) Extrapolations from any model can cause problems, so tree value estimates for diameters larger than 30 inches might have to be capped so trees do not exceed 27% of the total appraised property value.

Web References:

Asisbiz photo collection of ‘Plants’.

Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. They include familiar organisms such as trees, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The scientific study of plants, known as botany, has identified about 350,000 extant species of plants, defined as seed plants, bryophytes, ferns and fern allies. As of 2004, some 287,655 species had been identified, of which 258,650 are flowering and 18,000 bryophytes (see table below). Green plants, sometimes called Viridiplantae, obtain most of their energy from sunlight via a process called photosynthesis.


Aristotle divided all living things between plants (which generally do not move), and animals (which often are mobile to catch their food). In Linnaeus' system, these became the Kingdoms Vegetabilia (later Metaphyta or Plantae) and Animalia (also called Metazoa). Since then, it has become clear that the Plantae as originally defined included several unrelated groups, and the fungi and several groups of algae were removed to new kingdoms. However, these are still often considered plants in many contexts, both technical and popular.

Current definitions of Plantae

When the name Plantae or plants is applied to a specific taxon, it is usually referring to one of three concepts. From smallest to largest in inclusiveness, these three groupings are:
Name(s) Scope Description
Land plants, also known as Embryophyta or Metaphyta. Plantae sensu strictissimo As the narrowest of plant categories, this is further delineated below.
Green plants - also known as Viridiplantae, Viridiphyta or Chlorobionta Plantae sensu stricto Comprise the above Embryophytes, Charophyta (i.e., primitive stoneworts), and Chlorophyta (i.e., green algae such as sea lettuce). Viridiplantae encompasses a group of organisms that possess chlorophyll a and b, have plastids that are bound by only two membranes, are capable of storing starch, and have cellulose in their cell walls. It is this clade which is mainly the subject of this article.
Archaeplastida, Plastida or Primoplantae Plantae sensu lato Comprises the green plants above, as well as Rhodophyta (red algae) and Glaucophyta (simple glaucophyte algae). As the broadest plant clade, this comprises most of the eukaryotes that eons ago acquired their chloroplasts directly by engulfing cyanobacteria.

Outside of formal scientific contexts, the term "plant" implies an association with certain traits, such as multicellularity, cellulose, and photosynthesis. Many of the classification controversies involve organisms that are rarely encountered and are of minimal apparent economic significance, but are crucial in developing an understanding of the evolution of modern flora.


Most algae are no longer classified within the Kingdom Plantae. The algae comprise several different groups of organisms that produce energy through photosynthesis, each of which arose independently from separate non-photosynthetic ancestors. Most conspicuous among the algae are the seaweeds, multicellular algae that may roughly resemble terrestrial plants, but are classified among the green, red, and brown algae. Each of these algal groups also includes various microscopic and single-celled organisms.

The two groups of green algae are the closest relatives of land plants (embryophytes). The first of these groups is the Charophyta (desmids and stoneworts), from which the embryophytes developed. The sister group to the combined embryophytes and charophytes is the other group of green algae,Chlorophyta, and this more inclusive group is collectively referred to as the green plants or Viridiplantae. The Kingdom Plantae is often taken to mean this monophyletic grouping. With a few exceptions among the green algae, all such forms have cell walls containing cellulose, have chloroplasts containing chlorophylls a and b, and store food in the form of starch. They undergo closed mitosis without centrioles, and typically have mitochondria with flat cristae.

The chloroplasts of green plants are surrounded by two membranes, suggesting they originated directly from endosymbiotic cyanobacteria. The same is true of two additional groups of algae: the Rhodophyta (red algae) and Glaucophyta. All three groups together are generally believed to have a common origin, and so are classified together in the taxon Archaeplastida. In contrast, most other algae (e.g. heterokonts, haptophytes, dinoflagellates, and euglenids) have chloroplasts with three or four surrounding membranes. They are not close relatives of the green plants, presumably acquiring chloroplasts separately from ingested or symbiotic green and red algae.


Fungi were previously included in the plant kingdom, but are now seen to be more closely related to animals. Unlike embryophytes and algae which are generally photosynthetic, fungi are often saprotrophs: obtaining food by breaking down and absorbing surrounding materials. Most fungi are formed by microscopic structures called hyphae, which may or may not be divided into cells but contain eukaryotic nuclei. Fruiting bodies, of which mushrooms are most familiar, are the reproductive structures of fungi. They are not related to any of the photosynthetic groups, but are close relatives of animals. Therefore, the fungi are in a kingdom of their own.


About 350,000 species of plants, defined as seed plants, bryophytes, ferns and fern allies, are estimated to exist currently. As of 2004, some 287,655 species had been identified, of which 258,650 are flowering plants, 16,000 bryophytes, 11,000 ferns and 8,000 green algae.

Diversity of living plant divisions; Informal group

Division name Common name No. of living species
Green algae Chlorophyta green algae (chlorophytes) 3,800
Charophyta green algae (desmids & charophytes) 4,000 - 6,000
Bryophytes Marchantiophyta liverworts 6,000 - 8,000
Anthocerotophyta hornworts 100 - 200
Bryophyta mosses 12,000
Pteridophytes Lycopodiophyta club mosses 1,200
Pteridophyta ferns, whisk ferns & horsetails 11,000
Seed plants Cycadophyta cycads 160
Ginkgophyta ginkgo 1
Pinophyta conifers 630
Gnetophyta gnetophytes 70
Magnoliophyta flowering plants 258,650


The naming of plants is governed by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (see cultivated plant taxonomy).


The plants that are likely most familiar to us are the multicellular land plants, called embryophytes. They include the vascular plants, plants with full systems of leaves, stems, and roots. They also include a few of their close relatives, often called bryophytes, of which mosses and liverworts are the most common.

All of these plants have eukaryotic cells with cell walls composed of cellulose, and most obtain their energy through photosynthesis, using light and carbon dioxide to synthesize food. About three hundred plant species do not photosynthesize but are parasites on other species of photosynthetic plants. Plants are distinguished from green algae, which represent a mode of photosynthetic life similar to the kind modern plants are believed to have evolved from, by having specialized reproductive organs protected by non-reproductive tissues.

Bryophytes first appeared during the early Paleozoic. They can only survive where moisture is available for significant periods, although some species are desiccation tolerant. Most species of bryophyte remain small throughout their life-cycle. This involves an alternation between two generations: a haploid stage, called the gametophyte, and a diploid stage, called the sporophyte. The sporophyte is short-lived and remains dependent on its parent gametophyte.

Vascular plants first appeared during the Silurian period, and by the Devonian had diversified and spread into many different land environments. They have a number of adaptations that allowed them to overcome the limitations of the bryophytes. These include a cuticle resistant to desiccation, and vascular tissues which transport water throughout the organism. In most the sporophyte acts as a separate individual, while the gametophyte remains small.

The first primitive seed plants, Pteridosperms (seed ferns) and Cordaites, both groups now extinct, appeared in the late Devonian and diversified through the Carboniferous, with further evolution through the Permian and Triassic periods. In these the gametophyte stage is completely reduced, and the sporophyte begins life inside an enclosure called a seed, which develops while on the parent plant, and with fertilisation by means of pollen grains. Whereas other vascular plants, such as ferns, reproduce by means of spores and so need moisture to develop, some seed plants can survive and reproduce in extremely arid conditions.

Early seed plants are referred to as gymnosperms (naked seeds), as the seed embryo is not enclosed in a protective structure at pollination, with the pollen landing directly on the embryo. Four surviving groups remain widespread now, particularly the conifers, which are dominant trees in several biomes. The angiosperms, comprising the flowering plants, were the last major group of plants to appear, emerging from within the gymnosperms during the Jurassic and diversifying rapidly during the Cretaceous. These differ in that the seed embryo (angiosperm) is enclosed, so the pollen has to grow a tube to penetrate the protective seed coat; they are the predominant group of flora in most biomes today.


Plant fossils include roots, wood, leaves, seeds, fruit, pollen, spores, phytoliths, and amber (the fossilized resin produced by some plants). Fossil land plants are recorded in terrestrial, lacustrine, fluvial and nearshore marine sediments. Pollen, spores and algae (dinoflagellates and acritarchs) are used for dating sedimentary rock sequences. The remains of fossil plants are not as common as fossil animals, although plant fossils are locally abundant in many regions worldwide.

The earliest fossils clearly assignable to Kingdom Plantae are fossil green algae from the Cambrian. These fossils resemble calcified multicellular members of the Dasycladales. Earlier Precambrian fossils are known which resemble single-cell green algae, but definitive identity with that group of algae is uncertain.

The oldest known fossils of embryophytes date from the Ordovician, though such fossils are fragmentary. By the Silurian, fossils of whole plants are preserved, including the lycophyte Baragwanathia longifolia. From the Devonian, detailed fossils of rhyniophytes have been found. Early fossils of these ancient plants show the individual cells within the plant tissue. The Devonian period also saw the evolution of what many believe to be the first modern tree, Archaeopteris. This fern-like tree combined a woody trunk with the fronds of a fern, but produced no seeds.

The Coal measures are a major source of Paleozoic plant fossils, with many groups of plants in existence at this time. The spoil heaps of coal mines are the best places to collect; coal itself is the remains of fossilised plants, though structural detail of the plant fossils is rarely visible in coal. In the Fossil Forest at Victoria Park in Glasgow, Scotland, the stumps of Lepidodendron trees are found in their original growth positions.

The fossilized remains of conifer and angiosperm roots, stems and branches may be locally abundant in lake and inshore sedimentary rocks from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. Sequoia and its allies, magnolia, oak, and palms are often found.

Petrified wood is common in some parts of the world, and is most frequently found in arid or desert areas where it is more readily exposed by erosion. Petrified wood is often heavily silicified (the organic material replaced by silicon dioxide), and the impregnated tissue is often preserved in fine detail. Such specimens may be cut and polished using lapidary equipment. Fossil forests of petrified wood have been found in all continents.

Fossils of seed ferns such as Glossopteris are widely distributed throughout several continents of the Southern Hemisphere, a fact that gave support to Alfred Wegener's early ideas regarding Continental drift theory.

Structure, growth, and development

Most of the solid material in a plant is taken from the atmosphere. Through a process known as photosynthesis, most plants use the energy in sunlight to convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, plus water, into simple sugars. Parasitic plants, on the other hand, use the resources of its host to grow. These sugars are then used as building blocks and form the main structural component of the plant. Chlorophyll, a green-colored, magnesium-containing pigment is essential to this process; it is generally present in plant leaves, and often in other plant parts as well.

Plants usually rely on soil primarily for support and water (in quantitative terms), but also obtain compounds of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other crucial elemental nutrients. Epiphytic and lithophytic plants often depend on rainwater or other sources for nutrients and carnivorous plants supplement their nutrient requirements with insect prey that they capture. For the majority of plants to grow successfully they also require oxygen in the atmosphere and around their roots for respiration. However, some plants grow as submerged aquatics, using oxygen dissolved in the surrounding water, and a few specialized vascular plants, such as mangroves, can grow with their roots in anoxic conditions.
The leaf is usually the primary site of photosynthesis in plants.

Factors affecting growth

The genotype of a plant affects its growth, for example selected varieties of wheat grow rapidly, maturing within 110 days, whereas others, in the same environmental conditions, grow more slowly and mature within 155 days.

Growth is also determined by environmental factors, such as temperature, available water, available light, and available nutrients in the soil. Any change in the availability of these external conditions will be reflected in the plants growth.

Biotic factors are also capable of affecting plant growth. Plants compete with other plants for space, water, light and nutrients. Plants can be so crowded that no single individual produces normal growth. Optimal plant growth can be hampered by grazing animals, suboptimal soil composition, lack of mycorrhizal fungi, and attacks by insects or plant diseases, including those caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, and nematodes.

Simple plants like algae may have short life spans as individuals, but their populations are commonly seasonal. Other plants may be organized according to their seasonal growth pattern: annual plants live and reproduce within one growing season, biennial plants live for two growing seasons and usually reproduce in second year, and perennial plants live for many growing seasons and continue to reproduce once they are mature. These designations often depend on climate and other environmental factors; plants that are annual in alpine or temperate regions can be biennial or perennial in warmer climates. Among the vascular plants, perennials include both evergreens that keep their leaves the entire year, and deciduous plants which lose their leaves for some part of it. In temperate and boreal climates, they generally lose their leaves during the winter; many tropical plants lose their leaves during the dry season.

The growth rate of plants is extremely variable. Some mosses grow less than 0.001 millimeters per hour (mm/h), while most trees grow 0.025-0.250 mm/h. Some climbing species, such as kudzu, which do not need to produce thick supportive tissue, may grow up to 12.5 mm/h.

Plants protect themselves from frost and dehydration stress with antifreeze proteins, heat-shock proteins and sugars (sucrose is common). LEA (Late Embryogenesis Abundant) protein expression is induced by stresses and protects other proteins from aggregation as a result of desiccation and freezing.

Plant cell

Plant cells are typically distinguished by their large water-filled central vacuole, chloroplasts, and rigid cell walls that are comprised of cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin. Cell division is also characterized by the development of a phragmoplast for the construction of a cell plate in the late stages of cytokinesis. Just as in animals, plant cells differentiate and develop into multiple cell types. Totipotent meristematic cells can differentiate into vascular, storage, protective (e.g. epidermal layer), or reproductive tissues, with more primitive plants lacking some tissue types.



Plants are photosynthetic, which means that they manufacture their own food molecules using energy obtained from light. The primary mechanism plants have for capturing light energy is the pigment chlorophyll. All green plants contain two forms of chlorophyll, chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b. The latter of these pigments is not found in red or brown algae.

Internal distribution

Vascular plants differ from other plants in that they transport nutrients between different parts through specialized structures, called xylem and phloem. They also have roots for taking up water and minerals. The xylem moves water and minerals from the root to the rest of the plant, and the phloem provides the roots with sugars and other nutrient produced by the leaves.


The photosynthesis conducted by land plants and algae is the ultimate source of energy and organic material in nearly all ecosystems. Photosynthesis radically changed the composition of the early Earth's atmosphere, which as a result is now 21% oxygen. Animals and most other organisms are aerobic, relying on oxygen; those that do not are confined to relatively rare anaerobic environments. Plants are the primary producers in most terrestrial ecosystems and form the basis of the food web in those ecosystems. Many animals rely on plants for shelter as well as oxygen and food.

Land plants are key components of the water cycle and several other biogeochemical cycles. Some plants have coevolved with nitrogen fixing bacteria, making plants an important part of the nitrogen cycle. Plant roots play an essential role in soil development and prevention of soil erosion.


Plants are distributed worldwide in varying numbers. While they inhabit a multitude of biomes and ecoregions, few can be found beyond the tundras at the northernmost regions of continental shelves. At the southern extremes, plants have adapted tenaciously to the prevailing conditions.

Plants are often the dominant physical and structural component of 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 grasslands and forests.

Ecological relationships

Numerous animals have coevolved with plants. Many animals pollinate flowers in exchange for food in the form of pollen or nectar. Many animals disperse seeds, often by eating fruit and passing the seeds in their feces. 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 provide organic fertilizer.

The majority of plant species have various kinds of fungi associated with their root systems in a kind of 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. Some plants serve as homes for endophytic fungi that protect the plant from herbivores by producing toxins. The fungal endophyte, Neotyphodium coenophialum, in tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) does tremendous economic damage to the cattle industry in the U.S.

Various forms of parasitism are also fairly common among plants, 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. Some plants, known as myco-heterotrophs, parasitize mycorrhizal fungi, and hence act as epiparasites on other plants.

Many plants are epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants, usually trees, without parasitizing them. Epiphytes may indirectly harm their host plant by intercepting mineral nutrients and light that the host would otherwise receive. The weight of large numbers of epiphytes may break tree limbs. Hemiepiphytes like the strangler fig begin as epiphytes but eventually set their own roots and overpower and kill their host. Many orchids, bromeliads, ferns and mosses often grow as epiphytes. Bromeliad epiphytes accumulate water in leaf axils to form phytotelmata, complex aquatic food webs.

Approximately 630 plants are carnivorous, such as the Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) and sundew (Drosera species). They trap small animals and digest them to obtain mineral nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus.


Potato plant. Potatoes spread to the rest of the world after European contact with the Americas in the late 1400s and early 1500s and have since become an important field crop.
Timber in storage for later processing at a sawmill.

The study of plant uses by people is termed economic botany or ethnobotany; some consider economic botany to focus on modern cultivated plants, while ethnobotany focuses on indigenous plants cultivated and used by native peoples. Human cultivation of plants is part of agriculture, which is the basis of human civilization. Plant agriculture is subdivided into agronomy, horticulture and forestry.


Much of human nutrition depends on land plants, either directly or indirectly.
Human nutrition depends to a large extent on cereals, especially maize (or corn), wheat and rice. Other staple crops include potato, cassava, and legumes. Human food also includes vegetables, spices, and certain fruits, nuts, herbs, and edible flowers.
Beverages produced from plants include coffee, tea, wine, beer and alcohol.
Sugar is obtained mainly from sugar cane and sugar beet.
Cooking oils and margarine come from maize, soybean, rapeseed, safflower, sunflower, olive and others.
Food additives include gum arabic, guar gum, locust bean gum, starch and pectin.
Livestock animals including cows, pigs, sheep, and goats are all herbivores; and feed primarily or entirely on cereal plants, particularly grasses.

Nonfood products

Wood is used for buildings, furniture, paper, cardboard, musical instruments and sports equipment. Cloth is often made from cotton, flax or synthetic fibers derived from cellulose, such as rayon and acetate. Renewable fuels from plants include firewood, peat and many other biofuels. Coal and petroleum are fossil fuels derived from plants. Medicines derived from plants include aspirin, taxol, morphine, quinine, reserpine, colchicine, digitalis and vincristine. There are hundreds of herbal supplements such as ginkgo, Echinacea, feverfew, and Saint John's wort. Pesticides derived from plants include nicotine, rotenone, strychnine and pyrethrins. Drugs obtained from plants include opium, cocaine and marijuana. Poisons from plants include ricin, hemlock and curare. Plants are the source of many natural products such as fibers, essential oils, dyes, pigments, waxes, tannins, latex, gums, resins, alkaloids, amber and cork. Products derived from plants include soaps, paints, shampoos, perfumes, cosmetics, turpentine, rubber, varnish, lubricants, linoleum, plastics, inks, chewing gum and hemp rope. Plants are also a primary source of basic chemicals for the industrial synthesis of a vast array of organic chemicals. These chemicals are used in a vast variety of studies and experiments.

Aesthetic uses

Thousands of plant species are cultivated for aesthetic purposes as well as to provide shade, modify temperatures, reduce wind, abate noise, provide privacy, and prevent soil erosion. People use cut flowers, dried flowers and houseplants indoors or in greenhouses. In outdoor gardens, lawn grasses, shade trees, ornamental trees, shrubs, vines, herbaceous perennials and bedding plants are used. Images of plants are often used in art, architecture, humor, language, and photography and on textiles, money, stamps, flags and coats of arms. Living plant art forms include topiary, bonsai, ikebana and espalier. Ornamental plants have sometimes changed the course of history, as in tulipomania. Plants are the basis of a multi-billion dollar per year tourism industry which includes travel to arboretums, botanical gardens, historic gardens, national parks, tulip festivals, rainforests, forests with colorful autumn leaves and the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Venus Flytrap, sensitive plant and resurrection plant are examples of plants sold as novelties.

Scientific and cultural uses

Tree rings are an important method of dating in archeology and serve as a record of past climates. Basic biological research has often been done with plants, such as the pea plants used to derive Gregor Mendel's laws of genetics. Space stations or space colonies may one day rely on plants for life support. Plants are used as national and state emblems, including state trees and state flowers. Ancient trees are revered and many are famous. Numerous world records are held by plants. Plants are often used as memorials, gifts and to mark special occasions such as births, deaths, weddings and holidays. Plants figure prominently in mythology, religion and literature. The field of ethnobotany studies plant use by indigenous cultures which helps to conserve endangered species as well as discover new medicinal plants. Gardening is the most popular leisure activity in the U.S. Working with plants or horticulture therapy is beneficial for rehabilitating people with disabilities. Certain plants contain psychotropic chemicals which are extracted and ingested, including tobacco, cannabis (marijuana), and opium.

Negative effects

Weeds are plants that grow where people do not want them. People have spread plants beyond their native ranges and some of these introduced plants become invasive, damaging existing ecosystems by displacing native species. Invasive plants cause billions of dollars in crop losses annually by displacing crop plants, they increase the cost of production and the use of chemical means to control them affects the environment.

Plants may cause harm to people and animals. Plants that produce windblown pollen invoke allergic reactions in people who suffer from hay fever. A wide variety of plants are poisonous to people and/or animals. Several plants cause skin irritations when touched, such as poison ivy. Certain plants contain psychotropic chemicals, which are extracted and ingested or smoked, including tobacco, cannabis (marijuana), cocaine and opium, causing damage to health or even death. Both illegal and legal drugs derived from plants have negative effects on the economy, affecting worker productivity and law enforcement costs. Some plants cause allergic reactions in people and animals when ingested, while other plants cause food intolerances that negatively affect health.

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