What Are Key Characteristics Common to All Gymnosperms?

Gymnosperms share four common characteristics: they lack a protective outer covering around their seeds, do not produce flowers or fruits and are pollinated by winds, which disperse their seeds over short and long distances. Physically, gymnosperms have distinct characteristics, such as color and size, which set them apart from similar plants.

Unlike many kinds of plants and flowers, organisms classified as gymnosperms lack bright and bold flowers and petals. Gymnosperms do not produce fruits and, therefore, do not contain seeds encased in fruits, which is a characteristic shared by most other kinds of plants and flowers. Gymnosperms were the first plants known to botanists to contain seeds and are often said to have naked seeds. The seeds of gymnosperms are so-called because they lack flowers and typically develop on the surface of plants' reproductive structures rather than growing inside within ovaries.

Gymnosperms vary in size and shape but are found in four major divisions of plants, including evergreen trees and shrubs, cycad trees, which have large crowns of leaves and thick trunks, and several types of forest-dwelling woody plants. Gymnosperms are found throughout the world in many climates, including northern latitudes, low-lying plains and deserts, and even in tropical jungles.