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Which came first, the plant or the seed?

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Forget the chicken and the egg conundrum, this botanical argument has a resolution covering millions of years.

Asked by: Adam King, Huddersfield

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The earliest fossils of complex land plants date from around 470 million years ago. They resembled liverworts – a kind of simple moss – and reproduced by releasing spores, which were carried away when it rained.

Spores contain a single cell, whereas a seed contains a multicellular, fertilised embryo that is protected from drying out by a tough coat. These extra features took another 150 million years to evolve, whereupon the first seed-bearing plants emerged. So plants came first, by a long way.

Do plants think? © Getty Images

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Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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