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What are some advances of the flowering plants that contribute to the successful growth to great heights?
Question Date: 2005-07-16
Answer 1:

There are two main obstacles that plants must overcome to grow taller.

The first is just the structural support of the weight of the top of the tree. The second is the transportation of water up to the leaves and sugars down to the roots. Plants solve both problems at the same time by having extremely rigid transport tissues in the trunk -- the xylem (for water) and phloem (for sugary food). Actually it's the xylem that does most of the support work. The cells making up the long xylem tubes have both cellulose, an extremely tough, but fairly flexible, fibrous polymer, and lignin, a protein that hardens the cell wall and makes it rigid.

The angiosperms (flowering plants) also have unique cells that make up the xylem called vessel elements -- essentially hollow tubes that lose their nuclei and are more efficient at transporting liquid than the narrower cells called tracheids that make up the xylem in non-angiosperms.

Don't forget, though, that the tallest trees around aren't angiosperms at all -- the redwoods are conifers, so they have cones, not flowers. Redwoods and other conifers don't have a lot of the fancy reproductive adaptations that make angiosperms so specious and successful, and they have tracheids, not vessel elements, in their xylem, but they do have cellulose and lignin and that seems to be enough to let them grow as tall as they do.

Answer 2:

The tallest tree in the world is a Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in California, but Redwoods are not flowering plants! They're Gymnosperms, a name derived from Greek for "naked seed." This means that they don't enclose their seeds in a fruit like flowering plants do (all fruits come from flowers). Gymnosperms are generally considered to be more like primitive plants, and flowering plants are generally considered to be more "advanced." Flowering plants therefore have many specialized adaptations that Gymnosperms do not, but I don't think any of those adaptations is related to growing to great heights.

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