The evolution of plants has resulted in widely varying levels of complexity, from the earliest algal mats, through bryophytes, lycopods, ferns to the complex gymnosperms and angiosperms of today. While many of the groups which appeared earlier continue to thrive, as exemplified by algal dominance in marine environments, more recently derived groups have also displaced previously ecologically dominant ones, e.g. the ascendance of flowering plants over gymnosperms in terrestrial environments.
Evidence for the appearance of the first land plants occurs in the Ordovician, around450 million years ago in the form of fossil spores. Land plants began to diversify in the Late Silurian, around 430 million years ago, and the results of their diversification are displayed in remarkable detail in an early Devonian fossil assemblage from the Rhynie chert. This chert preserved early plants in cellular detail, petrified in volcanic springs.
By the middle of the Devonian, most of the features recognised in plants today are present, including roots and leaves. Late Devonian free-sporing plants such as Archaeopteris had secondary vascular tissue that produced wood and had formed forests of tall trees. Also by late Devonian, Elkinsia, an early seed fern, had evolved seeds. Evolutionary innovation continued into the Carboniferous and is still ongoing today. Most plant groups were relatively unscathed by the Permo-Triassic extinction event, although the structures of communities changed. This may have set the scene for the appearance of the flowering plants in the Triassic (~200 million years ago), and their later diversification in the Cretaceous andPaleogene. The latest major group of plants to evolve were the grasses, which became important in the mid-Paleogene, from around 40 million years ago. The grasses, as well as many other groups, evolved new mechanisms of metabolism to survive the low CO2 and warm, dry conditions of the tropics over the last 10 million years.