Gymnosperms use roots, vascularized tissues and upright growth forms to survive in terrestrial habitats. Gymnosperms were among the first plants to colonize the land, and adaptations to the Earth’s terrestrial biome pervade their biology. Gymnosperms are less common in the modern world than angiosperms, but before the appearance of flowering plants, gymnosperms dominated the landscape.
Unlike many aquatic plants that float freely in the water column, terrestrial gymnosperms anchor themselves to a single spot for the duration of their lives. However, like aquatic plants, gymnosperms require water to survive. To become stationary plants and still obtain the water they require gymnosperms use vascular tissues to transport water that is absorbed by their roots.
The development of vascular tissues and roots enabled primitive gymnosperms to develop upright growth forms. While many gymnosperms remain reasonably small, perhaps only growing to a height of 12 inches, some gymnosperms are the tallest plants on Earth. In California, redwood trees reach almost 400 feet in height.
The term “gymnosperm” means “naked seed” and refers to the seeds of the plants, which lack the fleshy, fruit-like covering common to angiosperms. Gymnosperms are almost universally wind-pollinated plants, while many angiosperms utilize insects, mammals or birds to achieve cross-pollination.