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Part XIII : Plant Dispersal

Colonization of a Habitat
Flowering Plants
The Spore-producing Plants : Mosses and Liverworts
Dispersal is Not Just for Plants
Laboratory work relating to this chapter

Topic Chapters Index

 

Fact File No.108

Pteridophyte comes from the Greek words "pterida" meaning fern and "phyta" meaning plant.

 

Tree fern, Northern Australia  © Shirley Burchill

Tree fern, Northern Australia

 

More information on spore-bearing plants from other section of the ODWS

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Pinnules with spore cases  © Paul Billiet

Pinnules with spore cases

PLANT DISPERSAL

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The Pteridophytes: Ferns and Horsetails

The fern plants have large complex bodies with extensive roots underground. Some of them can grow as large as trees. Millions of years ago forests of tree ferns covered the Earth but today these forests are mainly restricted to parts of New Zealand. The fern leaf or frond is supported by a long stem called a rachis from which grow small leaves called pinnules.

On the underside of the frond, it is possible to find small groups of spore cases. The spore cases are usually found under the pinnules at the ends of the frond. The shape of the groups of spore cases are useful in identifying the species of fern plant.

Diagram of pinnule with spore cases  © Shirley Burchill


The fern leaf is divided into sections called pinnules. Each pinnule has spore cases on its underside.

As the spore case ripens it dries out. One side of the case is made of thicker cells than the other. This makes the spore case burst open and throw the spores into the air.

 

A spore case with spores inside (x100) © Paul Billiet

A spore case with spores inside (x100)

The spores are microscopic and so they are easily carried by the wind. If the spore lands in a suitable habitat, it will germinate and grow into a small heart shaped plant called a prothallus. This prothallus is not yet a fern plant.

 

Diagram of an open spore case and spores  © Shirley Burchil

The spore case loses water and splits open, releasing its spores.

 

It is on the prothallus that fertilization takes places in the life cycle of the fern. The sperms are produced on one part of the prothallus and they swim in a film of water towards the eggs. The fertilized egg cell will grow into a young fern. Once the fern plant has established itself the prothallus dies.

 

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