A pine cone is a great example of seeds that come from a gymnosperm.
Image credit: Roberto Verzo

What Are Angiosperms and Gymnosperms?
Gymnosperms and angiosperms are two types of vascular plants that make up the spermatophytes (plants that produce seeds.)

Angiosperms are plants that flower and have seeds contained within fruit. This is the most common type of plant as angiosperms make up over 80% of all plant species!

The word “gymnosperm” is Greek for “naked seed.” This is because, unlike angiosperms, gymnosperms don’t flower. Also, the seeds they produce aren’t protected by fruit.

Some seeds in this group are protected by cones (conifers are classified as gymnosperms), but some seeds are completely unprotected. Ginkgo trees, for example, are gymnosperms that produce seeds without offering the protection of a cone.

Protected by a very hard shell, coconuts are an example of an angiosperm.
Image credit: Iaminfo

Seeds from a ginkgo tree
Image credit: Fritz Geller-Grimm

A great way to tell whether a particular tree is an angiosperm or a gymnosperm is to know whether it’s a conifer or deciduous tree. All coniferous trees are gymnosperms. That said, it’s important to remember that not all gymnosperms are conifers (some non-conifer trees like ginkgo are gymnosperms.)

While this is a nifty trick for coniferous trees, you can’t use it for deciduous trees. This is because while most deciduous trees are angiosperms, some trees are both deciduous and coniferous (this makes them gymnosperms since all conifers are gymnosperms.)

The American Larch, for example, is a deciduous tree (it loses its foliage each year), but is a member of the conifer (Coniferae/Pinophyta) division.

Welwitschia, found along the coast in Angola and Namibia, is a non-coniferous gymnosperm
Image credit: Muriel Gottrop

Non-coniferous Gymnosperms

As mentioned above, not all gymnosperms are coniferous plants. One of these plants, the ginkgo, is even a really cool remnant of ancient history. This is because the ginkgo genus dates back to the Early Jurassic period and the modern-day ginkgo (ginkgo biloba) is the only known living species of the entire genus!

Cycads, which resemble palm trees (palms are angiosperms, unlike cycads), are also gymnosperms. While there are few cycads today, these plants were extremely prevalent during the Jurassic period. One particular species of cycad, the encephalartos sclavoi found in Tanzania, is critically endangered. Its yellow cones can grow up to 40 centimeters in length!

Another group of non-coniferous gymnosperms is the Gnetophyta division which is broken up into three genera (Ephedra, Gnetum, and Welwitschia.) The Welwitschia mirabilis plant, like the ginkgo tree, is often called a living fossil. This slow-growing desert plant is very long-lived. Some Welwitschia plants have been found to be around 2000 years old!

Bees pollinating flowers
Source: Per Ola Wiberg

Examples of Angiosperms

Examples of angiosperms include fruit trees such as apples, oranges, bananas, coconuts, pears, peaches, cherries, and mangoes.

Plants in the nightshade family (such as tomatoes and peppers), the grass family (such as sugar cane, corn, rice, and wheat) are also angiosperms.

All flowering plants are angiosperms. Since there are approximately 250,000 to 400,000 species of flowering plants, you may have guessed that a lot of plants are angiosperms!