Alternation of generations describes a life cycle in which an organism has both haploid and diploid multicellular stages (Figure 14.2).
Haplontic refers to a life cycle in which there is a dominant haploid stage. Diplontic refers to a life cycle in which the diploid stage is the dominant stage, and the haploid chromosome number is only seen for a brief time in the life cycle during sexual reproduction. Humans are diplontic, for example. Most plants exhibit alternation of generations, which is described as haplodiplontic: the haploid multicellular form known as a gametophyte is followed in the development sequence by a multicellular diploid organism, the sporophyte. The gametophyte gives rise to the gametes, or reproductive cells, by mitosis. It can be the most obvious phase of the life cycle of the plant, as in the mosses, or it can occur in a microscopic structure, such as a pollen grain in the higher plants (the collective term for the vascular plants). The sporophyte stage is barely noticeable in lower plants (the collective term for the plant groups of mosses, liverworts, and hornworts). Towering trees are the diplontic phase in the lifecycles of plants such as sequoias and pines.