Do you look forward to spring each year? In addition to warmer temperatures, spring usually brings an explosion of color and beauty in the form of blooming flowers. If you're like many fans of nature, you can't wait until tulips and other spring flowers burst forth in all their glory.
Many of our Wonder Friends already know that there's a difference between annuals and perennials. Some plants, called annuals, grow from seed, produce flowers, and die all in one year. Perennials, on the other hand, can live for many years and flower many times. These are the plants that “come back" to bloom at about the same time year after year.
There are some plants, though, that don't flower at all. In fact, they're some of the oldest plants in the world. Some of the earliest species of non-flowering plants first appeared nearly 400 million years ago. Scientists who study plants — called botanists — believe that the wide variety of flowering plants we see today evolved from these older forms of non-flowering plants.
Botanists have identified 11 main types of non-flowering plants. They include the following: liverworts, mosses, hornworts, whisk ferns, club mosses, horsetails, ferns, conifers, cycads, ginkgo, and gnetophytes.
The first seven of these types of non-flowering plants reproduce by spores rather than seeds. The last four of these types — known as gymnosperms — produce “naked seeds" that are not enclosed by flowers like the seeds of flowering plants.
Unlike seeds, spores are tiny pieces of living plant material that can usually only be seen with a microscope. Non-flowering plants that reproduce via spores create large numbers of spores that they release into the air. They count on the wind to carry their spores to other areas where they can sprout (what scientists call germinating) to form new plants.
Just because a plant doesn't flower doesn't mean that it can't be beautiful, though. You're probably familiar with various species of gymnosperms, especially the conifers. Conifers produce their “naked seeds" in special cones. Conifers include the woody trees you know by names such as pines, firs, and cedars.
If you've ever seen a stand of pine trees on a snow-covered hillside, you can appreciate their evergreen beauty. They might not produce flowers, but they certainly provide a gorgeous backdrop of natural beauty that can help to highlight the many flowering plants that often exist around them.