If you reside in an area that’s populated by conifers, then you’ll know that conifers often produce pine cones. But if you were to ask any lay person about the life cycle of a cone tree, most of them with the exception of biologists would draw a blank. The various trees that produce seeds in the form of cones are called gymnosperms and they have been around for a long time, especially since the Paleozoic era. Today, there are at least 700 to 900 types of gymnosperms that exist around the world and its time that we took a closer look at its life cycle, so shall we?
- Sporophyte or spore-bearing phase: The Gymnosperm like most plants and trees often alternate between generations of sporophytes and gametophytes. Usually, it is found that the former is the more dominant of the two in Gymnosperm and lasts for a longer duration of time. During the initial stages of its life cycle, the plant produces male cones (essentially pollen cones) and the female version or ones containing ovulate. The interesting thing about this is that the same plant can produce both the male cones and female cones with the male ones found amongst the lower branches and the female cones among the top branches. The male cone comes with microspores while the female cone comes with megaspores.
- Gametophyte: In this phase, the male cone develops sperm cells while the female cone, develops eggs. It should be pointed out that the egg would only become fertilized after it comes into contact by the pollen produced by the male plant. They both count on the parent plant for essential nourishment but once fertilization takes place, the female cone disperses its seeds to the winds.
- Pollination: Often the plant has to develop on natural factors such as the wind to facilitate pollination. Once the pollen is carried by the wind from the male cone to the female cone, the cone in question seals itself immediately and soon the pollen starts to develop a pollen tube. This process can take about a year and soon, the pollen tube reaches the ovule where the eggs are fertilized by the sperm. This fertilization results in the development of a sporophyte, which is enclosed as a seed within an embryo.
- Dispersal: Soon natural factors such a wind and rains help to disperse the seeds; these seeds are often carried far, from the parent tree before they fall on the ground and start germinating right away. Soon the seed sprouts and the life cycle begins all over again.
This is the life cycle of a gymnosperm; so the next time you pass a cone-bearing plant, you may want to figure out if the cone that you are holding is female or male. Please note that the pollination process may even take longer depending on ambient conditions. But the life cycle described above suits all gymnosperm plants with a few minor changes but overall, it remains the same.
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