The spermatophytes (from the Greek word "Σπερματόφυτα"), also known as phanerogams or phenogamae, comprise those plants that produce seeds, hence the alternate name seed plants. They are a subset of the embryophytes or land plants. The term phanerogams or phanerogamae is derived from the Greekφανερός, phaneros = "visible", in contrast to the cryptogamae from Greek κρυπτόςkryptos = "hidden" together with the suffixγαμέω, gameein, "to marry". These terms distinguished those plants with hidden sexual organs (cryptogamae) from those with visible sexual organs (phanerogamae).
angiosperms, (or magnoliophyta) the flowering plants, a large group including many familiar plants in a wide variety of habitats.
In addition to the taxa listed above, the fossil record contains evidence of many extinct taxa of seed plants. The so-called "seed ferns" (Pteridospermae) were one of the earliest successful groups of land plants, and forests dominated by seed ferns were prevalent in the late Paleozoic. Glossopteris was the most prominent treegenus in the ancient southern supercontinent of Gondwana during the Permian period. By the Triassic period, seed ferns had declined in ecological importance, and representatives of modern gymnosperm groups were abundant and dominant through the end of the Cretaceous, when angiosperms radiated. Another Late Paleozoic group of probable spermatophytes were the gigantopterids.
A middle Devonianprecursor to seed plants from Belgium has been identified predating the earliest seed plants by about 20 million years. Runcaria, small and radially symmetrical, is an integumented megasporangium surrounded by a cupule. The megasporangium bears an unopened distal extension protruding above the mutlilobed integument. It is suspected that the extension was involved in anemophilous pollination. Runcaria sheds new light on the sequence of character acquisition leading to the seed. Runcaria has all of the qualities of seed plants except for a solid seed coat and a system to guide the pollen to the seed.
Seed-bearing plants were traditionally divided into angiosperms, or flowering plants, and gymnosperms, which includes the gnetophytes, cycads, ginkgo, and conifers. Older morphological studies believed in a close relationship between the gnetophytes and the angiosperms, in particular based on vessel elements. However, molecular studies (and some more recent morphological and fossil papers) have generally shown a clade of gymnosperms, with the gnetophytes in or near the conifers. For example, one common proposed set of relationships is known as the gne-pine hypothesis and looks like:
^Jiao Y, Wickett NJ, Ayyampalayam S, Chanderbali AS, Landherr L, Ralph PE, Tomsho LP, Hu Y, Liang H, Soltis PS, Soltis DE, Clifton SW, Schlarbaum SE, Schuster SC, Ma H, Leebens-Mack J, Depamphilis CW (2011) Ancestral polyploidy in seed plants and angiosperms. Nature
^"Science Magazine". Runcaria, a Middle Devonian Seed Plant Precursor. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2011. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
^Chung-Shien Wu, Ya-Nan Wang, Shu-Mei Liu and Shu-Miaw Chaw (2007). "Chloroplast Genome (cpDNA) of Cycas taitungensis and 56 cp Protein-Coding Genes of Gnetum parvifolium: Insights into cpDNA Evolution and Phylogeny of Extant Seed Plants". Molecular Biology and Evolution24 (6): 1366–1379. doi:10.1093/molbev/msm059. PMID17383970.
^Won, Hyosig; Renner, Susanne (August 2006). "Dating Dispersal and Radiation in the Gymnosperm Gnetum (Gnetales)—Clock Calibration When Outgroup Relationships Are Uncertain". Systematic Biology55 (4): 610–622. doi:10.1080/10635150600812619. PMID16969937.