Vascular Plant Classification

Written by michelle brunet
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Vascular Plant Classification
Most of the plants you encounter (approximately 93 per cent) are vascular. (Plant image by Hedgehog from

The plant kingdom is divided into vascular and non-vascular plants. Vascular plants are divided into classes, which are classified into orders, which are categorised into families, which are broken down into genera and then individualised species. Vascular plants are defined as having true leaves, roots and stems, says Access Excellence. They contain vascular tissues that carry water and nutrients (or sugar) throughout the plant representing the process and outcomes of photosynthesis. Non-vascular plants, still carry out photosynthesis, but it is a different process from vascular plants, since non-vascular plants lack internal tissues that transport water. Classify the vascular plants in your backyard or on your favourite hiking trail into more specific categories to truly understand the diversity of flora.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Plant journal
  • Plant identification book

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  1. 1

    Exclude mosses, liverworts (they look like mosses or have liver-shaped leaves) and hornworts (consisting of small green stick-shaped sporocytes) from your vascular plant classifications. They are non-vascular plants. Most of these are close to the ground, rarely growing higher than 3 inches. Club mosses and spike mosses are an exception; they are vascular plants that look like mini evergreen trees.

  2. 2

    Divide plants into seedless and seed plants. Seedless plants have something in common with non-vascular plants. They do not produce seeds---they produce spores dispersed with the wind. Examples of seedless plants are club mosses, spike mosses, quillworts, ferns, whisk ferns (that are not true ferns but look like them) and horsetails (also called snake grass). Club mosses, spike mosses and quillworts are represented by the phylum Lycophyta, which can be broken down into the families Lycopodiacea and Selaginellaceae, and then into genera and species. Ferns, whiskferns and horsetails are part of the phylum Pterophyta, which has at least 20 families. Try to identify your seedless plants at least down to the family level with the help of your identification book, the Texas A&M Bioinformatics Working Group photo gallery or another online resource.

  3. 3

    Divide plants that produce seeds into gymnosperm and angiosperm categories. Gymnosperms are non-flowering plants and the majority are coniferous trees (evergreen trees that produce cones), such as pine, hemlock and spruce trees. There are at least 11 families of gymnosperms. Use the guide book or online photo gallery to identify gymnosperms down to the family, and possibly the genus and species level.

  4. 4

    Divide angiosperms, the flowering plants, into monocots and dicots. Monocots, like orchids, lilies and grasses, have leaves with parallel veins and their flowers have petals and sepals that come in multiples of three. Dicots, like daisies, buttercups and maple trees, have petals and sepals that come in multiples of four or five and their leaves' veins form a netlike pattern. There are hundreds of families of flowering plants. Use leaf shape, size and arrangement on the stem, flower shape, colour, size and petals and plant height as indicators for classifying the angiosperms on your field trip.

  5. 5

    Organise your notes into headings, starting with the broadest headings of seed and seedless plants down to the more specific categories of families, genera and species.

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