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What is a plant?

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The term plant is a general description for living organisms that belong to the plantae kingdom, which encompasses multicellular eukaryotic organisms that lack a nervous system, sensory organs, and locomotive movement and that can photosynthesize. By and large, there are two types of plants, namely, vascular and nonvascular plants.

Vascular plant

The term vascular means small vessel. In plants, vessels are tube-like structures for conducting water, minerals, and nutrients. Hence, vascular plants are a group of plants that have a specialized system made from the vascular tissues known as xylem (for conducting water and minerals) and phloem (for conducting nutrients). These plants use the roots to extract water and minerals from the soil and transport them using the vascular system throughout the plant. They also transport nutrients from the leaves (and or stem) to the rest of the plant.

Vascular plants are highly evolved land plants and there are two types of vascular plants: non-wood and woody vascular plants.

Non-woody vascular plants

Non-woody vascular plants are plants with a stem that does not become solid wood. As a result, the plants tend to be short in height because they do not have a strong stem to support vertical growth. An example of non-woody vascular plants are herbaceous plants. There are three types of herbaceous plants: annuals, biennials, and perennials.  

  • Annuals – are herbaceous plants with a one year life cycle. Meaning the plant germinates, grows, produces flowers and then fruits containing seeds or just seeds, and then dies. This entire life cycle occurs within one year. 
  • Biennials – are herbaceous plants with a life cycle that has two growing seasons. In the first growing season the plant grows its vegetative parts, these are parts that can be reproduced asexually using vegetative propagation. The parts include the roots, stem, and leaves. The second growing season grows its non-vegetative parts, namely the flowers, fruits, and seeds. When a flower is pollinated (i.e., when sexual reproduction occurs), fertilisation follows, which produces the fruit with seeds inside. 
  • Perennials – are herbaceous plants that survive for many years. 

Examples of herbaceous plants:

  • Ferns – are one of the oldest living vascular plants and they are perennials
  • Forbs – are herbaceous plants characterised by broad leaves and flowers and they can be annual or perennial.   
  • Grasses and grass-like plants – are herbaceous plants characterised by long narrow leaves and flowers in spikelets and they are typically perennial herbaceous plants. However, wheat and oats are grasses but they are not perennials, they are annuals. Most crops are annuals and biennials. Onion and cabbage are examples of biennials.    

Woody vascular plants

Woody vascular plants are plants with a stem that does become solid wood. As a result, these plants tend to be taller in height because they have a strong stem to support vertical growth. An example of woody vascular plants are vines, shrubs, and trees.  

  • Vines – are vascular plants with a twining and climbing growth nature. There are woody-stemmed vines and there are non-woody herbaceous perennials.
  • Shrubs – are usually multi-stemmed plants that are taller than a herbaceous perennial but shorter than a tree.  
  • Trees – are plants that can grow taller than all the other vascular plants. Trees usually have a single stem when young and when they mature they may have one or more stems. 

Non-vascular plant

Non-vascular plants are a group of plants that either lack or have a poor vascular system. As such, they are unable to transporting water, minerals, and nutrients throughout the plant. Hence, these plants tend to be very small and lacks (or has an underdeveloped) root system. Non-vascular plants are not as evolved as vascular plants. They are low growing and occur in shady, humid, and moist areas. Examples of non-vascular plants include:

  • Mosses – are non-vascular plants that grow in clusters to preserve moisture. You generally find moss growing on rocks especially near water. You can also find them on damp tree trunks. 
  • Liverworts – are non-vascular plants that resemble a liver. They grow as a mat and produce spore capsules. You can find liverworts growing on moist soil, rocks that are near water, and damp tree trunks.    
  • Hornworts – are non-vascular plants that produce horn-like structures. They grow in clumps and produce spore capsules. You can find hornworts in the same place you would find moss and liverworts.

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