Australian Biological Resources Study

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Kingdom Plantae (plants) Hide details

Features: The kingdom Plantae includes organisms that range in size from a tiny moss to a giant tree. Despite this enormous variation, all plants are multicellular and eukaryotic (i.e., each cell possesses a membrane-bound nucleus that contains the chromosomes). They generally possess pigments (chlorophylls a and b and carotenoids), which play a central role in converting the energy of sunlight into chemical energy by means of photosynthesis. Plants, therefore, are independent in their nutritional needs (autotrophic) and store their excess food in the form of macromolecules of starch. The relatively few plants that are not autotrophic have lost pigments and are dependent on other organisms for nutrients (parasitism). Although plants are nonmotile organisms, some produce motile cells (gametes) propelled by whiplike flagella. Plant cells are surrounded by a more or less rigid cell wall composed of the carbohydrate cellulose, and adjacent cells are interconnected by microscopic strands of cytoplasm called plasmodesmata, which traverse the cell walls. Many plants have the capacity for unlimited growth at localized regions of cell division, called meristems. Plants, unlike animals, can use inorganic forms of the element nitrogen (N), such as nitrates and ammonia, and thus do not require an external source of protein (in which nitrogen is a major constituent) to survive. The life histories of plants include two phases, or generations, one of which is diploid (the nuclei of the cells contain two sets of chromosomes), while the other is haploid (with one set of chromosomes). The diploid generation is known as the sporophyte, which literally means spore-producing plant. The haploid generation, called the gametophyte, produces the sex cells, or gametes. The complete life cycle of a plant thus involves an alternation of haploid and diploid generations. The sporophyte and gametophyte generations of plants are structurally quite dissimilar.

The concept of what constitutes a plant has undergone significant change over time. For example, at one time the photosynthetic aquatic organisms commonly referred to as algae were considered members of the plant kingdom. The various major algal groups, such as the green algae, brown algae, and red algae, are now placed in the kingdom Protista because they lack one or more of the features that are characteristic of plants. The organisms known as fungi also were once considered to be plants since they reproduce by spores and possess a cell wall. The fungi, however, uniformly lack chlorophyll (heterotrophic) and are chemically distinct from the plants; they are now placed in a separate kingdom, Fungi.

The earliest plants undoubtedly evolved from an aquatic, green algal ancestor (as evidenced by similarities in pigmentation, cell wall chemistry, biochemistry, and method of cell division), and different plant groups have become adapted to terrestrial life to varying degrees. Land plants face severe environmental threats or difficulties, such as desiccation, drastic changes in temperature, support, nutrient availability to each of the cells of the plant, regulation of gas exchange between the plant and the atmosphere, and successful reproduction. Thus, many adaptations to land existence have evolved in the plant kingdom and are reflected among the different major plant groups. An example is the development of a waxy covering (the cuticle) that covers the plant body, preventing excess water loss. Specialized tissues and cells (vascular tissue) enabled early land plants to absorb and transport water and nutrients to distant parts of the body more effectively and, eventually, to develop a more complex body composed of organs called stems, leaves, and roots. The evolution and incorporation of the substance lignin into the cell walls of plants provided strength and support. Details of the life history are often a reflection of a plant's adaptation to a terrestrial mode of life and may characterize a particular group.

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Phylum: Magnoliophyta flowering plants


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