In plants, both haploid and diploid cells can divide by mitosis. This ability leads to the formation of different plant bodies - haploid and diploid. The haploid plant body produces gametes by mitosis.
This plant body represents a gametophyte. Following fertilisation the zygote also divides by mitosis to produce a diploid sporophytic plant body. Haploid spores are produced by this plant body by meiosis.
These in turn, divide by mitosis to form a haploid plant body once again. Thus, during the life cycle of any sexually reproducing plant, there is an alternation of generations between gamete producing haploid gametophyte and spore producing diploid sporophyte.
However, different plant groups, as well as individuals representing them, differ in the following patterns:
1. Sporophytic generation is represented only by the one-celled zygote. There are no free-living sporophytes.
Meiosis in the zygote results in the formation of haploid spores. The haploid spores divide mitotically and form the gametophyte. The dominant, photosynthetic phase in such plants is the free-living gametophyte.
This kind of life cycle is termed as haplontic. Many algae such as Volvox, Spirogyra and some species of Chlamydomonas represent this pattern.
2. On the other extreme, is the type wherein the diploid sporophyte is the dominant, photosynthetic, independent phase of the plant. The gametophytic phase is represented by the single to few-celled haploid gametophyte.
This kind of life cycle is termed as diplontic. An alga, Fucus sp., represents this pattern. In addition, all seed bearing plants i.e., gymnosperms and angiosperms, follow this pattern with some variations, wherein, the gametophytic phase is few to multi-celled.
3. Bryophytes and pteridophytes, interestingly, exhibit an intermediate condition (Haplo-diplontic); both phases are multicellular. However, they differ in their dominant phases.
A dominant, independent, photosynthetic, thalloid or erect phase is represented by a haploid gametophyte and it alternates with the short- lived multicelluler sporophyte totally or partially dependent on the gametophyte for its anchorage and nutrition.
All bryophytes represent this pattern. The diploid sporophyte is represented by a dominant, independent, photosynthetic, vascular plant body. It alternates with multicellular, saprophytic/autotrophic, independent but short-lived haploid gametophyte.
Such a pattern is known as haplo-diplontic life cycle. All pteridophytes exhibit this pattern (Figure).
Interestingly, while most algal genera are haplontic, some of them such as Ectocarpus, Polysiphonia, kelps are haplo-diplontic. Fucus, an alga is diplontic.