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Classification of plants

By classifying living things an attempt can be made to organise the hundreds of thousands of species into a meaningful scheme based on their life-history.

The highest rank for living organisms is the Kingdom. Today the most widely accepted classification recognises five kingdoms. Two of these are Fungi and Plantae. Fungi do not contain chlorophyll and cannot photosynthesise.

They live as parasites, saprophytes or in symbiosis. Plants make their own food by photosynthesis using chlorophyll in their leaves and sunlight.


These plants have no flowers and reproduce by means of spores which can be found in clusters on the back of leaves.

Ferns first appear in the fossil record in the early Carboniferous period about 350 million years ago.
They usually grow in damp, shady areas.

In many ferns, the newly emerging frond is called a fiddlehead because it looks like the carved spiral at the end of a violin!


Conifer seeds develop inside a protective cone or similar structure. The cones take from four months to three years to reach maturity, and vary in size from 2 to 600 mm long.

The conifers are an ancient group, with a fossil record extending back about 300 million years.

They are found all over the world but are particularly suited to colder climates and higher altitudes.

Many conifers have distinctly scented resin, secreted to protect the tree against insect infestation and fungal infection of wounds!

Flowering plants

Wood anemone. This plant flowers in the UK around April. Look out for patches in local woodland

The flowering plants are the majority of plants we see around us. They have seeds enclosed in a true fruit.

They have reproductive organs in a structure called a flower; the ovule is enclosed within a carpel, which will lead formation of a fruit.

We use flowering plants for building materials, perfume, clothes, food, decoration and medicines!


Mosses and liverworts are small plants which are often overlooked. They are soft plants that are typically 1-10 cm tall, occasionally more. They grow close together in clumps, mats or cushions in damp or shady locations.

They do not have flowers or seeds, and their simple leaves cover the thin stems. At certain times mosses and liverworts produces spore capsules which may appear as beak-like structures borne on thin stalks.

Some species of liverworts can be a nuisance to gardeners growing well on soil in shady green-houses.

Moss is considered a weed in grass lawns in Britain, but is deliberately encouraged to grow in traditional Japanese gardens!


Algae lack leaves, roots, flowers, and other organ structures that characterise higher plants. They are usually found in damp places or bodies of water and are common in terrestrial as well as aquatic environments.

However, terrestrial algae are usually rather inconspicuous but are far more common in moist, tropical regions because algae lack vascular tissues and other adaptations to live on land. Seaweeds are algae which grow in shallow marine waters.

Algae are used in making ice-cream!


Fly agaric toadstools

Although often inconspicuous, fungi occur in every environment on earth and play very important roles in most ecosystems.

Along with bacteria, fungi are the major decomposers of dead organic matter in most terrestrial (and some aquatic) ecosystems, and therefore play an important role in nutrient cycles and in many food webs.

A puffball

Fungi are also used extensively by humans: yeasts are responsible for fermentation of beer and bread, and mushroom farming and gathering is a large industry in many countries.

A fungus of the species Armillaria ostoyae may be the largest organism on the planet!


Lichens are organisms made up by the association of a fungus with a photosynthetic partner which is an algae that can produce food for the lichen from sunlight. Reproduction is carried out by spores  and also by the release of outgrowths from the thallus which are carried of by the wind. In addition many lichens break up into fragments when they dry, dispersing themselves to resume growth when moisture returns.The European Space Agency has discovered that lichens can survive unprotected in space!