The life cycle of vascular plants begins with the seed being germinated and continues until the plant matures enough to reproduce. Vascular plants, like human beings, have tubes running through them that carry food and water to all their parts. These tubes, grouped in bundles, are what separate vascular plants from nonvascular plants. Any plant with roots, leaves and a stem falls into the vascular category, except for ferns, which fall into a small but unique group of vascular plants that do not produce seeds.
Seeds containing embryonic versions of the plants are germinated when temperatures are warm enough and when the seed is exposed to moisture. The seed coat is shed and the radicle, which develops into the root, pushes downward. The hypocotyl pushes upward through the soil and forms the stem. The cotyledons or seed leaves open, and the plant has begun life.
The plumule is the first pair of true leaves, and it is contained within the seed also. As the stem pushes the plumule upward, the leaves open and the plant can begin the process of photosynthesis. The plant will continue to grow, adding stems, branches or limbs, depending upon the nature of the plant. It also continues adding leaves so that it can make enough food to sustain itself.
Vascular plants have different maturity rates. Maturity is reached when the plant is old enough to flower and then produce fruit, which contains its seeds. Some plants can accomplish this in one growing season and are called annuals. Other plants produce flowers and fruit on second year growth and are called annuals. A third group takes much longer to mature, sometimes three to 10 years. Trees and many shrubs fall into this category, and they are called perennials.
Once maturity is attained, the plant will produce flowers. Bees, butterflies and other insects as well as wind act to pollinate different types of flowers. This triggers the production of fruit. Fruit is merely the name given to the vessel that contains the plant's seeds. It can be an apple, a papery helicopter or a pinecone.
Once the fruit has matured, it leaves the plant through the action of the wind or because animals or humans harvest the fruit. Through wind or animal dispersal, the seed is scattered and must experience a period of stratification. Stratification is a long period of cold temperatures, as would be experienced by the seed during a winter in its natural habitat. When this period has passed, the seed is ready for germination, and the life cycle begins again.