he classification of fungi has been controversial until quite recently in the history of biology. Linnaeus’ original classification placed the fungi within the Plantae, since they were unquestionably not animals or minerals and these were the only other alternatives. With later developments in microbiology, in the 19th century Ernst Haeckel felt that another kingdom was required to classify newly discovered micro-organisms. The introduction of the new kingdom Protista in addition to Plantae and Animalia, led to uncertainty as to whether fungi truly were best placed in the Plantae or whether they ought to be reclassified as protists. Haeckel himself found it difficult to decide and it was not until 1969 that a solution was found whereby Robert Whittaker proposed the creation of the kingdom Fungi. Molecular evidence has since shown that the most recent common ancestor (concestor), of the Fungi was probably more similar to that of the Animalia than to that of Plantae or any other kingdom.
Whittaker’s original reclassification was based on the fundamental difference in nutrition between the Fungi and the Plantae. Unlike plants, which generally gain carbon through photosynthesis, and so are called autotrophs, fungi generally obtain carbon by breaking down and absorbing surrounding materials, and so are called heterotrophic saprotrophs. In addition, the substructure of multicellular fungi is different from that of plants, taking the form of many chitinous microscopic strands called hyphae, which may be further subdivided into cells or may form a syncytium containing many eukaryotic nuclei. Fruiting bodies, of which mushrooms are the most familiar example, are the reproductive structures of fungi, and are unlike any structures produced by plants.
The evolution of plants has resulted in increasing levels of complexity, from the earliest algal mats, through bryophytes, lycopods, ferns to the complex gymnosperms and angiosperms of today. Plants in all of these groups continue to thrive, especially in the environments in which they evolved.
An algal scum formed on the land 1,200 million years ago, but it was not until the Ordovician Period, around 450 million years ago, that land plants appeared. However, new evidence from the study of carbon isotope ratios in Precambrian rocks has suggested that complex photosynthetic plants developed on the earth over 1000 m.y.a. For more than a century it has been assumed that the ancestors of land plants evolved in aquatic environments and then adapted to a life on land, an idea usually credited to botanist Frederick Orpen Bower in his 1908 book “The Origin of a Land Flora”. A more recent alternative view, supported by genetic evidence, is that they evolved from single-celled algae that were already terrestrial. Primitive land plants began to diversify in the late Silurian Period, around 420 million years ago, and the fruits 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 Period most of the features recognised in plants today are present, including roots, leaves and secondary wood, and by late Devonian times seeds had evolved. Late Devonian plants had thereby reached a degree of sophistication that allowed them to form forests of tall trees. Evolutionary innovation continued after the Devonian period. 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 evolution of flowering plants in the Triassic (~200 million years ago), which exploded in the Cretaceous and Tertiary. The latest major group of plants to evolve were the grasses, which became important in the mid Tertiary, 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.
A 1997 proposed phylogenetic tree of Plantae, after Kenrick and Crane, is as follows, with modification to the Pteridophyta from Smith et al. The Prasinophyceae are a paraphyletic assemblage of early diverging green algal lineages, but are treated as a group outside the Chlorophyta: later authors have not followed this suggestion.