Ferns are considered the most advanced seedless vascular plants and display characteristics commonly observed in seed plants. Ferns form large leaves and branching roots. In contrast, whisk ferns, the psilophytes, lack both roots and leaves, which were probably lost by evolutionary reduction. Evolutionary reduction is a process by which natural selection reduces the size of a structure that is no longer favorable in a particular environment. Photosynthesis takes place in the green stem of a whisk fern. Small yellow knobs form at the tip of the branch stem and contain the sporangia. Whisk ferns have been classified outside the true ferns; however, recent comparative analysis of DNA suggests that this group may have lost both vascular tissue and roots through evolution, and is actually closely related to ferns.
With their large fronds, ferns are the most readily recognizable seedless vascular plants (Figure 14.16). About 12,000 species of ferns live in environments ranging from tropics to temperate forests. Although some species survive in dry environments, most ferns are restricted to moist and shaded places. They made their appearance in the fossil record during the Devonian period (416–359 million years ago) and expanded during the Carboniferous period, 359–299 million years ago (Figure 14.17).
Go to this website(http://openstaxcollege.org/l/fern_life_cycl2)to see an animation of the lifecycle of a fern and to test your knowledge.
Careers IN ACTION
Looking at the well-laid gardens of flowers and fountains seen in royal castles and historic houses of Europe, it is clear that the creators of those gardens knew more than art and design. They were also familiar with the biology of the plants they chose. Landscape design also has strong roots in the United States’ tradition. A prime example of early American classical design is Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s private estate; among his many other interests, Jefferson maintained a passion for botany. Landscape layout can encompass a small private space, like a backyard garden; public gathering places, like Central Park in New York City; or an entire city plan, like Pierre L’Enfant’s design for Washington, DC.
A landscape designer will plan traditional public spaces—such as botanical gardens, parks, college campuses, gardens, and larger developments—as well as natural areas and private gardens (Figure14.18). The restoration of natural places encroached upon by human intervention, such as wetlands, also requires the expertise of a landscape designer.
With such an array of required skills, a landscape designer’s education includes a solid background in botany, soil science, plant pathology, entomology, and horticulture. Coursework in architecture and design software is also required for the completion of the degree. The successful design of a landscape rests on an extensive knowledge of plant growth requirements, such as light and shade, moisture levels, compatibility of different species, and susceptibility to pathogens and pests. For example, mosses and ferns will thrive in a shaded area where fountains provide moisture; cacti, on the other hand, would not fare well in that environment. The future growth of the individual plants must be taken into account to avoid crowding and competition for light and nutrients. The appearance of the space over time is also of concern. Shapes, colors, and biology must be balanced for a well-maintained and sustainable green space. Art, architecture, and biology blend in a beautifully designed and implemented landscape.