The flowering plants are one of the major groups of modern plants, comprising those that produce seeds in specialized reproductive organss called flowers, where the ovulary or carpel is enclosed. These are known as angiosperms. In other seed plants (Spermatophytes), called gymnosperms, the ovule is not enclosed at pollination.
The first evidence of angiosperms appears in the fossil record approximately 140 million years ago, during the Jurassic period (203-135 million years ago). Based on current evidence, it is seems that the ancestors of the angiosperms and the Gnetophytes diverged from one another during the late Triassic (220-202 million years ago). Fossil plants with some identifiable angiosperm characteristics appear in the Jurassic and early Cretaceous (135-65 million years ago), but in relatively few and primitive forms. The great angiosperm radiation, when a great diversity of angiosperms appear in the fossil record, occurred in the mid-Cretaceous (approximately 100 million years ago). By the late Cretaceous, angiosperms appear to have become the predominant group of land plants, and many fossil plants recognizable as belonging to modern families (including beech, oak, sycamore, and magnolia) appeared.
The flowering plants are usually treated as a division, formerly called the Angiospermatophyta or Anthophyta, but now called Magnoliophyta after the type genusMagnolia. Their classification has undergone considerable revision as ideas about their relationships change. The Cronquist system, proposed by Arthur Cronquist in 1981, is still widely used but is no longer believed to reflect phylogeny. A general consensus about how the flowering plants should be arranged has only recently begun to emerge, through the work of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, who published an influential reclassification of the angiosperms in 1998. An update incorporating more recent research was published as APG (2003).
Traditionally, the flowering plants are divided into the dicotyledons and monocotyledons (called dicots and monocots for short). This is based mainly on the number of cotyledons or embryonic leaves within the seeds, but there are a number of other differences. These groups are typically ranked as classes, formerly called Dicotyledoneae and Monocotyledoneae, but now respectively named Class Magnoliopsida and Class Liliopsida after the type genus in each case.
Studies show that the monocots are monophyletic, and the dicots are paraphyletic to them. However, the majority belong to a monophyletic subgroup called the eudicotyledons or tricolpates, distinguished most notably by the form of the pollen. Since newer systems tend to avoid paraphyletic groups, these may be treated as a separate class Rosopsida, or split into several different classes. The Magnoliopsida would then be restricted to the basal dicots or palaeodicotyledons, a paraphyletic group which may also be further divided.
The most diverse families of flowering plants, in order of number of species, are:
In the list above (showing only the 7 largest families), the Orchidaceae, Poaceae, and Cyperaceae are monocot families; the others are dicot families. The total number of families in the Magnoliophyta is over 460.
In some parts of the world, certain single species assume paramount importance because of their variety of uses. An example is the coconut (Cocos nucifera) on Pacific atolls. Another example is the olive (Olea europaea) in the Mediterranean.
Flowering plants also provide economic resources in the form of wood, paper, fiber (cotton, flax, and hemp, among others), medicines (digitalis, camphor), decorative and landscaping plants, and many, many other uses.