The life cycle of a plant includes several stages. From seed germination to photosynthesis to flower to seed dispersal, the life cycle is designed to maximize the plant's potential for continued survival from season to season. Understanding the general stages of a plant's life cycle can assist you in properly caring for it, maximizing its potential for survival.
Plant life begins with seed germination. Most seeds need warm, moist soil for proper germination. During germination, seeds begin to sprout roots and what are called cotyledon leaves. Cotyledon leaves start the process of photosynthesis, allowing the plant to process light into food.
As the plant grows, the cotyledon leaves die off. The plant then develops its first "true" leaves. If you have started growing plants indoors during the spring, transplant them outside at this time. Be certain all danger of frost has passed.
Many gardeners grow plants to enjoy the beauty of their flowers. However, flowering is an essential part of the plant's life cycle. It is inside the flower that a seed is pollinated, either by human hand or by various insects such as bees, butterflies and moths. Flowers have both male parts, called stamens, and female parts, called pistils. Pollination occurs when pollen moves from the stamen to the pistil. Proper pollination allows the plant to produce fruit, then seeds.
The fruit of a plant is also the seed pods. People pick and eat the fruit on vegetable plants such as beans, squash, pumpkins and peas before they have a chance to disperse the seeds inside the pod. However, if left undisturbed, the fruit will eventually turn into a seed pod.
At the end of a plant's life cycle, it again produces seeds for the next season. Seeds are dispersed in numerous ways. Some plants produce pods that burst open, dropping seeds to the ground. Other seeds are dispersed by the wind. Dandelions are particularly known for their white tufts of seeds carried by the wind. Animals also aid in seed dispersal by eating, digesting and excreting the seed, or by carrying the seeds on their fur until they drop to the ground.
After a plant disperses its seed, it dies. Some plants complete their life cycle in one year. These plants are called annuals. Other plants germinate and grow in one year, but will not produce flowers and seeds until the second year. These plants are called biennials. Perennials are plants that live for three years or more. These plants complete the processes of germination, growth, flowering and seed each year, but do not die after they disperse their seeds. Instead, they go dormant, typically through the winter, then begin the next season by growing and flowering again.