This display shows a selection of the non-flowering land plants, such as liverworts, mosses and ferns. These all evolved before the flowering plants (or Angiosperms) which now dominate our flora.
The plants here and in the adjacent Fern Courtyard are from a number of plant groups which are very ancient. Most of them don’t produce seed, like flowering plants and conifers do. Instead their reproduction depends on a two-stage lifecycle. The first stage releases free-swimming sperm into damp environments, and these swim to the eggs held on the surfaces of other individual plants. From these fertilised eggs a second stage of the lifecycle grows. This produces hard dry spores which are blown away in the wind, and germinate in a new habitat to produce the first stage of the lifecycle again. When you look at a moss plant you are seeing the first stage of the lifecycle, known as the gametophyte, while the second stage is the stalks holding capsules that sometimes appear on top of the moss plants. The capsules contain the spores. If you look at a fern frond (or leaf) you are looking at the second stage of the lifecycle, and again you can see the spores arranged in fascinating patterns on the back of the frond.
Many of these plants occur in damp, moist habitats, and this helps maximise their chances of reproduction, as their sperm need to be able to swim in a water film. These non-seed plants occur throughout the world, from the tropics where ferns such as Asplenium australasicum occur, to polar regions, where mosses and lichen grow.
To find out more about the evolution of plants on land, and the evolutionary steps that led from simple plants like moss to the complex and diverse flowering plants we see today, please visit our Systematic Beds where the Rising Path leads you on a journey through the history of plants on Earth.