Evolutionary Ordering of Plant Groups

A cladogram of the evolutionary relationships of land plants (embryophytes) and possible origination during geologic time. The phylogenetic relationships are based upon studies that incorporate fossil taxa, which may give different results than purely molecular cladistics. The thick-labeled bars indicate evidence for macrofossils of each group during geologic time. 

Below you will find the evolutionary or phylogenetic groupings of land plant groups, based upon current research. Click on a group to learn about their characteristics, time range, and evolutionary significance. 

= Extinct; * Diverts to Plant Diversity website


Nematophytes: strange, fungal-algal organisms from the Paleozoic

Archaeplastida *: clade including red algae, green algae, and land plants

Red algae *: The phylum Rhodophyta

 └Viridiplantae *: a clade including the green algae and land plants

   ├Chlorophytes *: some green algae

    └Streptophytes: a clade including land plants, the charophytes, and zygnematophytes

      ├Charophytes: a group green algae closely-related to land plants

       └Embryophytes: another name for "land plants"

          ├Bryophytes *: non-vascular plants

              Hornworts *: non-vascular thalloid plants with horn-like sporophytes

               Setaphytes: non-vascular plants with a seta stalk

                 Liverworts *: non-vascular plants with thalloid and leafy forms

                  Mosses *: non-vascular leafy plants

          └Polysporangiophytes: plants with sporophytes that branch

             Eophytes †: branching, non-vascular plants

             Horneophytes †: branching, non-vascular plants

             Aglaophyton : branching, non-vascular plants

             Tracheophytes: another name for the clade of vascular plants

                Rhyniales †: ancestral vascular plants

                 Eutracheophytes: clade of "true" vascular plants

                   Cooksonioids †: oldest known vascular plants

                   Lycophytes: clade with clubmosses and zosterophylls

                       Zosterophylls †: leafless relatives of clubmosses

                           └Sawdoniales †: derived zosterophylls

                       ?Barinophytes †: heterosporous zosterophylls?

                        Lycopsida: the clubmosses or lycopods

                          Drepanophycales †: ancestral, extinct clubmosses

                          Protolepidodendrales †: extinct clubmosses with forked leaves

                          Lycopodiales *: ground pines, princess pines, etc. 

                          Selaginellales *: spikemosses

                          Isoetales *: quillworts

                          Pleuromeiales †: Mesozoic group of cormose clubmosses

                           Lepidodendrales †: tree-sized clubmosses, called scale trees

                   Euphyllophytes: a clade of true-leaved plants

         Trimerophytes †: ancestral euphyllophytes that probably form a grade

              └Eophyllophyton †: early plant with megaphyllous leaves

         Monilophytes: a clade representing modern and ancient ferns, as well as horsetails

             Cladoxylopsida †: ancient tree-sized fern-like plants

                  ├Iridopteridales †: intermediates between trimerophytes and horsetails

                    └Pseudosporochnales †: a group of the earliest known tree-sized plants

                       └Eospermatopteris †: earliest known tree-like plant on Earth

             Equisetophytes: horsetails, scouring rushes, and their ancient relatives

                 ├Pseudoborniales †: the most ancient group of equisetophytes

                 ├Sphenophyllales †: horsetail-like plants with ambiguous connections

                  └Equisetales: Modern horsetails, including ancient calamites

             Stauropteridales †: Ancient ferns with obscure leaf-stem transition

             Rhacophytales †: Ferns dominant in Late Devonian understory

             Zygopteridales †: Late Paleozoic ferns with quadriserate fronds

             Psilotales *: leafless and rootless extant ferns

             Ophioglossales *: obscure ferns related to Psilotales

             Marattiales: ancient tree ferns with eusporangia

              └True ferns *: modern ferns mostly with leptosporangia 

         Pertica †: taxon intermediate between early forms and woody plants

          Lignophytes (woody plants)

             Progymnosperms †: spore-bearing, woody plants

                 ? Eophyllophyton †: Early Devonian plant with true leaves that are flattened stems

                 Aneurophytales †: vine-like, leafless progymnosperms

                 Stenokoleales †: Possible progymnosperm or seed plant

                 Archeopteridales †: earliest true trees with woody growth

                 Protopityales †: obscure progymnosperms known mostly from anatomy

                  Noeggerathians †: heterosporous progymnosperms dominant during Permian

             Spermatophytes (seed plants)

                 Basal seed plants †: Late Devonian seed plants, known as seed ferns

                 Lyginopteridales †: early arborescent seed ferns

                 Medullosales †: early arborescent seed ferns with large seeds

                 Buteoxylonales †: poorly understood pteridosperm groups

                 Callistophytales †: Best known Paleozoic seed plants

                 Calamopityales †: Mississippian pteridosperm with indistinct stem and leaf anatomy

                 Cycadales: palm-like, cone-bearing plants that are still extant on Earth

                 Dirhopalostachtaceae †: 

                 Gigantopteridales †: complex seed ferns of the Permian

                 Nystroemiaceae †: Permian seed plants with derived stems and leaves

                 Hermanophytes †: enigmatic gymnosperms  from the Late Mesozoic

                 Iraniales †: obscure gymnosperms from the Late Triassic

                 Peltaspermales †: gymnosperms with umbrella-like reproductive structures

                 Corystospermales †: successful fern-like gymnosperm during the Triassic

                 Czekanowskiales †: Mesozoic seed plant that may be related to ginkgoes

                 Ginkgophyta: Ginkgo; maidenhair trees

                 Vladimariales : Mesozoic seed plants 

                 Vojnovskyales †: gymnosperm with umbrella-like cone and fan-shaped leaves

                 Coniferophytes: conifer clade

                      Cordaitales †: Paleozoic gymnosperms with cones and strap-like leaves

                      Voltziales †: ancestral conifers 

                       Conifers: extinct and extant cone-bearing, (mostly) evergreen gymnosperms 

                  Gnetophytes *: gymnosperms with angiosperm-like leaves and cones

                   ?Anthophyte clade: hypothesized clade of plant groups related to angiosperms

                        Glossopteridales †: Permian gymnosperms with tongue-like leaves

                        Petriellales †: Triassic plants found in Antarctic understory

                        Pentoxylon †: Mesozoic gymnosperms with complex leaves and pulpy cones

                        Bennettitales †: cycad-like gymnosperms with flower-like cones

                        Doyleales †: obscure Cretaceous gymnosperm with carpel-like ovulate organs

                        Caytoniales †: small trees with possible affinities with angiosperms

                         Angiosperms: flowering, fruiting plants