Plant Reproductive Development and Structure

Plant Reproductive Development and Structure

Plants have developed various strategies, both sexual and asexual, to ensure reproductive success.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate among the ways in which plants reproduce

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Vegetative reproduction is a type of asexual reproduction that results in new plant individuals without seed or spore production.
  • Vegetative reproduction is also utilized by horticulturists to ensure production of large quantities of valuable plants.
  • Plants have flowers that produce seeds through sexual reproduction; seeds are dispersed to increase propagation of the next generation.
  • Seeds are often dispersed by animals via ingestion of the fruits, which surround the seeds, promoting seed dispersal.

Key Terms

  • vegetative reproduction: a form of asexual reproduction in plants

Introduction

Plants have evolved different reproductive strategies for the continuation of their species. Some plants reproduce sexually while others reproduce asexually, in contrast to animal species, which rely almost exclusively on sexual reproduction. Plant sexual reproduction usually depends on pollinating agents, while asexual reproduction is independent of these agents. Flowers are often the showiest or most strongly-scented part of plants. With their bright colors, fragrances, and interesting shapes and sizes, flowers attract insects, birds, and animals to serve their pollination needs. Other plants pollinate via wind or water; still others self-pollinate.

Asexual Reproduction

Vegetative reproduction is a type of asexual reproduction. Other terms that apply are vegetative propagation, clonal growth, or vegetative multiplication. Vegetative growth is enlargement of the individual plant, while vegetative reproduction is any process that results in new plant “individuals” without production of seeds or spores. It is both a natural process in many, many species as well as a process utilized or encouraged by horticulturists and farmers to obtain quantities of economically-valuable plants. In this respect, it is a form of cloning that has been carried out by humanity for thousands of years and by plants for hundreds of millions of years.

Sexual Reproduction and The Flower

The flower is the reproductive organ of plants classified as angiosperms. All plants have the means and corresponding structures for reproducing sexually. The basic function of a flower is to produce seeds through sexual reproduction. Seeds are the next generation, serving as the primary method in most plants by which individuals of the species are dispersed across the landscape. Actual dispersal is, in most species, a function of the fruit (a structural part that typically surrounds the seed).

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Plants and sexual reproduction: Plants that reproduce sexually often achieve fertilization with the help of pollinators such as (a) bees, (b) birds, and (c) butterflies.

Sexual Reproduction in Gymnosperms

Gymnosperms produce both male and female gametophytes on separate cones and rely on wind for pollination.

Learning Objectives

Describe the process of sexual reproduction in gymnosperms

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In gymnosperms, a leafy green sporophyte generates cones containing male and female gametophytes; female cones are bigger than male cones and are located higher up in the tree.
  • A male cone contains microsporophylls where male gametophytes ( pollen ) are produced and are later carried by wind to female gametophytes.
  • The megaspore mother cell in the female cone divides by meiosis to produce four haploid megaspores; one of the megaspores divides to form the female gametophyte.
  • The male gametophyte lands on the female cone, forming a pollen tube through which the generative cell travels to meet the female gametophyte.
  • One of the two sperm cells released by the generative cell fuses with the egg, forming a diploid zygote that divides to form the embryo.
  • Unlike angiosperms, ovaries are absent in gymnosperms, double fertilization does not take place, male and female gametophytes are present on cones rather than flowers, and wind (not animals) drives pollination.

Key Terms

  • megasporophyll: bears megasporangium, which produces megaspores that divide into the female gametophyte
  • microsporophyll: a leaflike organ that bears microsporangium, which produces microspores that divide into the male gametophyte (pollen)

Sexual Reproduction in Gymnosperms

As with angiosperms, the life cycle of gymnosperms is also characterized by alternation of generations. In conifers such as pines, the green leafy part of the plant is the sporophyte; the cones contain the male and female gametophytes. The female cones are larger than the male cones and are positioned towards the top of the tree; the small, male cones are located in the lower region of the tree. Because the pollen is shed and blown by the wind, this arrangement makes it difficult for a gymnosperm to self-pollinate.

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Conifer life cycle: This image shows the life cycle of a conifer. Pollen from male cones blows up into upper branches, where it fertilizes female cones. Examples are shown for female and male cones.

Male Gametophyte

A male cone has a central axis on which bracts, a type of modified leaf, are attached. The bracts, known as microsporophylls, are the sites where microspores will develop. The microspores develop inside the microsporangium. Within the microsporangium, cells known as microsporocytes divide by meiosis to produce four haploid microspores. Further mitosis of the microspore produces two nuclei: the generative nucleus and the tube nucleus. Upon maturity, the male gametophyte (pollen) is released from the male cones and is carried by the wind to land on female cones.

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Male and female gametophytes: These series of micrographs shows male and female gymnosperm gametophytes. (a) This male cone, shown in cross section, has approximately 20 microsporophylls, each of which produces hundreds of male gametophytes (pollen grains). (b) Pollen grains are visible in this single microsporophyll. (c) This micrograph shows an individual pollen grain. (d) This cross section of a female cone shows portions of about 15 megasporophylls. (e) The ovule can be seen in this single megasporophyll. (f) Within this single ovule are the megaspore mother cell (MMC), micropyle, and a pollen grain.

Female Gametophyte

The female cone also has a central axis on which bracts known as megasporophylls are present. In the female cone, megaspore mother cells are present in the megasporangium. The megaspore mother cell divides by meiosis to produce four haploid megaspores. One of the megaspores divides to form the multicellular female gametophyte, while the others divide to form the rest of the structure. The female gametophyte is contained within a structure called the archegonium.

Reproductive Process

Upon landing on the female cone, the tube cell of the pollen forms the pollen tube, through which the generative cell migrates towards the female gametophyte through the micropyle. It takes approximately one year for the pollen tube to grow and migrate towards the female gametophyte. The male gametophyte containing the generative cell splits into two sperm nuclei, one of which fuses with the egg, while the other degenerates. After fertilization of the egg, the diploid zygote is formed, which divides by mitosis to form the embryo. The scales of the cones are closed during development of the seed. The seed is covered by a seed coat, which is derived from the female sporophyte. Seed development takes another one to two years. Once the seed is ready to be dispersed, the bracts of the female cones open to allow the dispersal of seed; no fruit formation takes place because gymnosperm seeds have no covering.

Angiosperms Versus Gymnosperms

Gymnosperm reproduction differs from that of angiosperms in several ways. In angiosperms, the female gametophyte in the ovule exists in an enclosed structure, the ovary; in gymnosperms, the female gametophyte is present on exposed bracts of the female cone and is not enclosed in an ovary. Double fertilization is a key event in the life cycle of angiosperms, but is completely absent in gymnosperms. The male and female gametophyte structures are present on separate male and female cones in gymnosperms, whereas in angiosperms, they are a part of the flower. Finally, wind plays an important role in pollination in gymnosperms because pollen is blown by the wind to land on the female cones. Although many angiosperms are also wind-pollinated, animal pollination is more common.

Sexual Reproduction in Angiosperms

Angiosperms may be monoecious or dioecious and undergo sexual reproduction.

Learning Objectives

Outline the components of a flower and their function

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A typical flower has four main parts, or whorls: the calyx ( sepals ), corolla (petals), androecium (male reproductive structure), and gynoecium (female reproductive structure).
  • Angiosperms that contain both male and female gametophytes within the same flower are called complete and are considered to be androgynous or hermaphroditic.
  • Angiosperms that contain only male or only female gametophytes are considered to be incomplete and are either staminate (contain only male structures) or carpellate (contain only female structures) flowers.
  • Microspores develop in the microsporangium and form mature pollen grains (male gametophytes), which are then used to fertilize female gametophytes.
  • During megasporogenesis, four megaspores are produced with one surviving; during megagametogenesism, the surviving megaspore undergoes mitosis to form an embryo sac (female gametophyte).
  • The sperm, guided by the synergid cells, migrates to the ovary to complete fertilization; the diploid zygote develops into the embryo, while the fertilized ovule forms the other tissues of the seed.

Key Terms

  • perianth: the calyx (sepals) and the corolla (petals)
  • androecium: the set of a flower’s stamens (male reproductive organs)
  • gynoecium: the set of a flower’s pistils (female reproductive organs)

Sexual Reproduction in Angiosperms

The lifecycle of angiosperms follows the alternation of generations. In the angiosperm, the haploid gametophyte alternates with the diploid sporophyte during the sexual reproduction process of angiosperms. Flowers contain the plant’s reproductive structures.

Flower Structure

A typical flower has four main parts, or whorls: the calyx, corolla, androecium, and gynoecium. The outermost whorl of the flower has green, leafy structures known as sepals, which are collectively called the calyx, and help to protect the unopened bud. The second whorl is comprised of petals, usually brightly colored, collectively called the corolla. The number of sepals and petals varies depending on whether the plant is a monocot or dicot. Together, the calyx and corolla are known as the perianth. The third whorl contains the male reproductive structures and is known as the androecium. The androecium has stamens with anthers that contain the microsporangia. The innermost group of structures in the flower is the gynoecium, or the female reproductive component(s). The carpel is the individual unit of the gynoecium and has a stigma, style, and ovary. A flower may have one or multiple carpels.

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Structures of the flower: The four main parts of the flower are the calyx, corolla, androecium, and gynoecium. The androecium is the sum of all the male reproductive organs, and the gynoecium is the sum of the female reproductive organs.

If all four whorls are present, the flower is described as complete. If any of the four parts is missing, the flower is known as incomplete. Flowers that contain both an androecium and a gynoecium are called perfect, androgynous, or hermaphrodites. There are two types of incomplete flowers: staminate flowers contain only an androecium; and carpellate flowers have only a gynoecium.

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Staminate and carpellate flowers: The corn plant has both staminate (male) and carpellate (female) flowers. Staminate flowers, which are clustered in the tassel at the tip of the stem, produce pollen grains. Carpellate flower are clustered in the immature ears. Each strand of silk is a stigma. The corn kernels are seeds that develop on the ear after fertilization. Also shown is the lower stem and root.

If both male and female flowers are borne on the same plant (e.g., corn or peas), the species is called monoecious (meaning “one home”). Species with male and female flowers borne on separate plants (e.g., C. papaya or Cannabis)are termed dioecious, or “two homes.” The ovary, which may contain one or multiple ovules, may be placed above other flower parts (referred to as superior); or it may be placed below the other flower parts (referred to as inferior).

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Superior and inferior flowers: The (a) lily is a superior flower, which has the ovary above the other flower parts. (b) Fuchsia is an inferior flower, which has the ovary beneath other flower parts.

Male Gametophyte

The male gametophyte develops and reaches maturity in an immature anther. In a plant’s male reproductive organs, development of pollen takes place in a structure known as the microsporangium. The microsporangia, usually bi-lobed, are pollen sacs in which the microspores develop into pollen grains.

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Microsporangium: Shown is (a) a cross section of an anther at two developmental stages. The immature anther (top) contains four microsporangia, or pollen sacs. Each microsporangium contains hundreds of microspore mother cells that will each give rise to four pollen grains. The tapetum supports the development and maturation of the pollen grains. Upon maturation of the pollen (bottom), the pollen sac walls split open and the pollen grains (male gametophytes) are released. (b) In these scanning electron micrographs, pollen sacs are ready to burst, releasing their grains.

Within the microsporangium, the microspore mother cell divides by meiosis to give rise to four microspores, each of which will ultimately form a pollen grain. An inner layer of cells, known as the tapetum, provides nutrition to the developing microspores, contributing key components to the pollen wall. Mature pollen grains contain two cells: a generative cell and a pollen tube cell. The generative cell is contained within the larger pollen tube cell. Upon germination, the tube cell forms the pollen tube through which the generative cell migrates to enter the ovary. During its transit inside the pollen tube, the generative cell divides to form two male gametes. Upon maturity, the microsporangia burst, releasing the pollen grains from the anther.

Each pollen grain has two coverings: the exine (thicker, outer layer) and the intine. The exine contains sporopollenin, a complex waterproofing substance supplied by the tapetal cells. Sporopollenin allows the pollen to survive under unfavorable conditions and to be carried by wind, water, or biological agents without undergoing damage.

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Pollen grain structure: Pollen develops from the microspore mother cells. The mature pollen grain is composed of two cells: the pollen tube cell and the generative cell, which is inside the tube cell. The pollen grain has two coverings: an inner layer (intine) and an outer layer (exine). The inset scanning electron micrograph shows Arabidopsis lyrata pollen grains.

Female Gametophyte (Embryo Sac)

The overall development of the female gametophyte has two distinct phases. First, in the process of megasporogenesis, a single cell in the diploid megasporangium undergoes meiosis to produce four megaspores, only one of which survives. During the second phase, megagametogenesis, the surviving haploid megaspore undergoes mitosis to produce an eight-nucleate, seven-cell female gametophyte, also known as the megagametophyte, or embryo sac. The polar nuclei move to the equator and fuse, forming a single, diploid central cell. This central cell later fuses with a sperm to form the triploid endosperm. Three nuclei position themselves on the end of the embryo sac opposite the micropyle and develop into the antipodal cells, which later degenerate. The nucleus closest to the micropyle becomes the female gamete, or egg cell, and the two adjacent nuclei develop into synergid cells. The synergids help guide the pollen tube for successful fertilization, after which they disintegrate. Once fertilization is complete, the resulting diploid zygote develops into the embryo; the fertilized ovule forms the other tissues of the seed.

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Embryo sac: As shown in this diagram of the embryo sac in angiosperms, the ovule is covered by integuments and has an opening called a micropyle. Inside the embryo sac are three antipodal cells, two synergids, a central cell, and the egg cell.

A double-layered integument protects the megasporangium and, later, the embryo sac. The integument will develop into the seed coat after fertilization, protecting the entire seed. The ovule wall will become part of the fruit. The integuments, while protecting the megasporangium, do not enclose it completely, but leave an opening called the micropyle. The micropyle allows the pollen tube to enter the female gametophyte for fertilization.