Types of Plants (With Pictures)

Updated on June 8, 2016
Will Apse profile image

The author is a biologist who worked in conservation, aquatic biology, and woodland management over many years.

Kinds of plants
Kinds of plants

Most people will recognize most of the plants on this page. At the same time, we don't always pay too much attention to what makes some living things similar and what makes them different. It is not easy to see that an oak tree and a geranium are near relatives until you start to look closely.

The way we look at plants now has a lot to do with the work of Carl Linnaeus. He was a 17th Century Swedish scientist, and he wanted to work out just how many different kinds of living things there were.

He separated living things into plants and animals—in the same way that people had done for a very long time—but then went much further. He proposed groups and families where living organisms could be placed with their closest relatives. This was the beginning of modern scientific classification.

Classification has changed as science has advanced, but the Linnaean system is still in pretty good shape. On this page you will find the main groups of plants according to that system.

The Main Kinds of Plants

Plants Without Seeds

  • Algae: green, brown and red (see discussion below: "Are algae really plants?")
  • Liverworts
  • Mosses
  • Ferns and horsetails

Plants With Seeds

  • Cycads: palm-like plants with cones
  • Ginkgo: a living fossil
  • Conifers: spruce, fir, larch and so on
  • Flowering plants: from oak trees to geraniums

This list covers most of the plants on our planet, but if you want a really exact understanding you will need to dig into the science. This bibliography is one place to start.

Plants Without Seeds

Algae

Kinds of algae: green, brown and red
Kinds of algae: green, brown and red

Green Algae

This is a very varied group of living things with many thousands of individual species. Most green algae live in water. Others live where it is very damp all the time; they hate being dried out.

If you see a pond where the water is green, it will probably be because millions of tiny green algae have grown there. Each alga is invisible to the naked eye.

On a seashore, you might come across kinds of green algae that are very big indeed: the green seaweeds.

Brown Algae

Brown algae are more common in the ocean than in fresh water.

Some of the tallest plants in the world are brown algae. Giant kelp, for example, is common in shallow oceans, especially off the coast of California. It can be as tall as 250 feet!

A single-celled alga viewed through a very powerful electron microscope. This one is a sea dweller, but many similar kinds live in freshwater ponds and lakes.
A single-celled alga viewed through a very powerful electron microscope. This one is a sea dweller, but many similar kinds live in freshwater ponds and lakes. | Source

Are Algae Really Plants?

To a scientist, the answer is "no." To most people, the answer is "yes."

Close study suggests that algae have more in common with bacteria than plants, and scientists have removed them from the plant kingdom.

Algae photosynthesise (make food from water and carbon dioxide), as do all plants, but they lack the distinctive structures of true plants like roots and leaves.

A kelp forest with many brown algae. Photo by Fastily
A kelp forest with many brown algae. Photo by Fastily

Liverworts

A liverwort
A liverwort

Liverworts are small plants that you see in damp places. They can stand being dried out a little better than algae, but not much.

A common kind of liverwort is pictured above. You usually see this kind near waterfalls or in woods with a lot of rain. The picture has a high magnification. These plants are pretty small!

Liverworts are believed to have evolved soon after plants made the transition from water to the land. In this sense they are more advanced than algae.

They do not have the sophisticated vessels that transport water from roots to leaves found in more advanced plants.

Mosses

Beautiful moss growing by a stream
Beautiful moss growing by a stream

Mosses are close relatives of liverworts. They also like damp places and they need a lot of water to make offspring. Often mosses and liverworts fight for space around rivers and streams. Mosses don't need soil to grow, so rocks and trees can be covered in moss.

Mosses are the first plant group which show 'apical' growth. This means individual stems grow from the tip or special points along the stem, just as flowering plants do. Liverworts simply expand, growing outwards from every point.

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss is an especially successful moss that will grow on water. It can form floating mats many feet deep. In places, it is possible to walk on these floating mats, sometimes called "quaking bogs."

One of the strangest experiences I ever had was walking across one of these bogs. Small trees grew in the sphagnum and trees leaned to the side as I passed—my weight on the moss was enough to cause this! This is why they are called "quaking bogs."

A Quaking Bog

Ferns

Typical fern leaf
Typical fern leaf

Ferns are far better at coping with dry periods than either algae or mosses, but still need very wet conditions to reproduce. This limits where they can grow. You will not find a fern in a desert!

Bracken is an especially successful kind of fern in countries with a cool, wet climate. It spreads quickly by using underground "creeping rhizomes" and can cover many acres very quickly.

In Devonian times, many millions of years ago, ferns were the dominant land plant on our planet. Instead of forests of fir trees or oaks, there were forests of huge tree ferns. Later on, many familiar dinosaurs like the Triceratops would be happy to dine on ferns.

Plants With Seeds

Seeds have an outer layer that helps protect against drying out, infection, or consumption by animals.

Cycads

Typical cycad cone
Typical cycad cone

Cycads mostly grow in Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Australia.

They are the kinds of exotic-looking plants you see in jungle movies, though some are popular house and garden plants. They like moisture and heat.

They can be tall and often have woody trunks. The leaves tend to be long and thin.

If you have grown up in a northern climate, cycads can be strange plants to encounter. Quite suddenly unfamiliar and fascinating structures will grow out of a cycad in my garden, for example, and have me hunting through my books to find out exactly what is happening.

These structures are usually cones of some kind, similar to the cones that conifers produce.

Cones bear exposed seeds rather than the kinds of seeds that you find in flowering plants, which are well protected until they are released. The seeds are often pollinated by special kinds of beetles rather than bees or other insects.

More on cycads: berkeley.edu/cycads.html

Ginkgo

Fall colors of a female ginkgo tree in Japan
Fall colors of a female ginkgo tree in Japan

There is only one species of Ginkgo in the world today: Ginkgo biloba.

When you look at the fossils of this plant, it seems that there only ever was one kind of ginkgo; the modern plant looks a great deal like its ancient relatives, who date back to the Permian period (a time well before the dinosaurs).

Despite its lack of diversity, the ginkgo once covered huge areas of the world. Now it is only found naturally in Central China.

Most scientists think that flowering trees have been outcompeting the ginkgo, and so the ginkgo has gradually been dying out.

It is sometimes called a living fossil.

At the same time, the tree's beauty has meant that gardeners and park keepers have carefully planted and tended ginkgo trees around the world.

Conifers

A spruce forest: a young larch cone; an old fir cone
A spruce forest: a young larch cone; an old fir cone

Conifers are close relatives of cycads. They have cones with seeds and they also have woody trunks.

The most noticeable difference is that conifers like cold, northern climates where they can form huge forests that can stretch from one side of a continent to the other.

The typical conifer shape is excellent at shedding snow. They also have many ways of coping with freezing at the cellular level.

Conifers are popular garden plants too. They are evergreen and most grow very quickly.

Flowering Plants

An oak tree; a geranium; an orchid; and a shrub (hydrangea) in full flower
An oak tree; a geranium; an orchid; and a shrub (hydrangea) in full flower

Some people think of plants and trees as very different. The truth is that trees are plants, just as much as a row of lettuce or a fine rose.

Flowering plants are the most familiar kind of plant for anyone who lives in a temperate climate (not too hot, not too cold).

The thing that makes a geranium so similar to an oak tree is the flowers that they both produce. Flowering plants protect the female parts of the plant inside thick walls of tissue. The male parts of the plant produce pollen, and this needs to burrow its way through this tissue to produce an embryo that then develops into a seed.

Pollen can be transferred from one plant to another by the wind or by insects like bees. Plants that use wind pollination usually have small, drab and inconspicuous flowers. Flowers that use insects for pollination are often big and bright so that the insects can see them from a long way off.

Flowering plants are the plants most able to cope with dry conditions. Cacti can flourish in places where there is no rain for many years at a time.

While flowering trees grow more slowly than conifers, their hard wood is more resistant to insect damage. This means they do better in warmer places.

Pollen With Growing Tubes

Tubes grow from pollen to fertilize the female parts of a flower
Tubes grow from pollen to fertilize the female parts of a flower | Source

Summary of Plant Types and Their Evolution.

Plant types and evolution.
Plant types and evolution. | Source

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Misbah 

        8 weeks ago

        It is so usefull to prepare essaye

      • profile image

        J.J 

        2 months ago

        Very helpful for making an assignment about plants!

      • profile image

        Karthik 

        2 months ago

        This is a good site

      • profile image

        3 months ago

        I'm writing an essay about plants and this is very helpful!

      • profile image

        Ellie 

        4 months ago

        This is really good because it helps with all my silence work for my group

      • profile image

        Mehar singla 

        4 months ago

        This chart is helpful but plz write or give the names of that plants which are found in the surrounding and have simple names so that it will be easy for the students of lower classes to learn and understand...

      • alison monroe profile image

        Alison Monroe 

        2 years ago

        Nice chart! Evolution marches on!

      • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

        Will Apse 

        3 years ago

        I am so pleased, that you got what you were looking for from this page, Katrina.

      • profile image

        katrina 

        3 years ago

        This is interesting I've learned so much

      • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

        Will Apse 

        3 years ago

        Thanks to both of you for your kind words. I enjoy getting the images right -- which is pretty easy to be honest given how beautiful plants are.

        I think a page called 'types of shale' would really test a person's skills.

        But then, maybe a geologist will pop up and say 'shale is wonderful!'

      • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image

        Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

        4 years ago from southwestern Virginia

        The pictures really made this hubpage zing! Lots of information into a very tight space. Interesting and a visual treat.

      • profile image

        Kat 

        4 years ago

        Love these descriptions, but algae are plantlike protists, not plants. Great page though! :))

      • profile image

        Camilo 

        5 years ago

        Thanks! this really helped me with my homework! :D

      • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

        Will Apse 

        6 years ago

        I'm glad it helped, Sarah.

      • profile image

        sarah 

        6 years ago

        this helped me with plants

      • livelonger profile image

        Jason Menayan 

        7 years ago from San Francisco

        Interesting! Yes, I read in your Hub about Venus Flytraps growing in poor-quality soil, too (in the quaking bog video). I had always thought they consumed insects for their nitrogen, but it seems as though it's their minerals that they're after. I've never seen sundews up close, but I've read about their fascinating insect-trapping mechanism.

      • Will Apse profile imageAUTHOR

        Will Apse 

        7 years ago

        I visited a quaking bog in Wales (UK) on a field trip as a student. It was pretty special.

        One thing about sphagnum is that it only grows in nutrient poor environments. The lack of nutrients also means that plants that are good at catching insects do well.

        In Wales, that meant plants called sundews. These trap and digest insects to extract the nutrients.

        Another way of putting it is that these plants make a kind of compost from flies so they can flourish.

      • livelonger profile image

        Jason Menayan 

        7 years ago from San Francisco

        Interesting and informative stuff, Will. The quaking bog was pretty freaky! The pictures really help illustrate the fascinating variety in the plant kingdom.

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