The Pteridophytes include horsetails and ferns. Pteridophytes are used for medicinal purposes and as soil-binders. They are also frequently grown as ornamentals. Evolutionarily, they are the first terrestrial plants to possess vascular tissues – xylem and phloem. You shall study more about these tissues in Chapter 6.
The pteridophytes are found in cool, damp, shady places though some may flourish well in sandy-soil conditions. You may recall that in bryophytes the dominant phase in the life cycle is the gametophytic plant body.
However, in pteridophytes, the main plant body is a sporophyte which is differentiated into true root, stem and leaves. These organs possess well-differentiated vascular tissues.
The leaves in pteridophyta are small (microphylls) as in Selaginella or large (macrophylls) as in ferns. The sporophytes bear sporangia that are subtended by leaf-like appendages called sporophylls. In some cases sporophylls may form distinct compact structures called strobili or cones (Selaginella, Equisetum).
The sporangia produce spores by meiosis in spore mother cells. The spores germinate to give rise to inconspicuous, small but multicellular, free-living, mostly photosynthetic thalloid gametophytes called prothallus.
These gametophytes require cool, damp, shady places to grow. Because of this specific restricted requirement and the need for water for fertilisation, the spread of living pteridophytes is limited and restricted to narrow geographical regions.
The gametophytes bear male and female sex organs called antheridia and archegonia, respectively. Water is required for transfer of antherozoids – the male gametes released from the antheridia, to the mouth of archegonium. Fusion of male gamete with the egg present in the archegonium result in the formation of zygote.
Zygote thereafter produces a multicellular well-differentiated sporophyte which is the dominant phase of the pteridophytes. In majority of the pteridophytes all the spores are of similar kinds; such plants are called homosporous. Genera like Selaginella and Salvinia which produce two kinds of spores, macro (large) and micro (small) spores, are known as heterosporous.
The megaspores and microspores germinate and give rise to female and male gametophytes, respectively. The female gametophytes in these plants are retained on the parent sporophytes for variable periods.
The development of the zygotes into young embryos take place within the female gametophytes. This event is a precursor to the seed habit considered an important step in evolution.
The pteridophytes are further classified into four classes: Psilopsida (Psilotum); Lycopsida (Selaginella, Lycopodium), Sphenopsida (Equisetum) and Pteropsida (Dryopteris, Pteris, Adiantum).