Biology » Seedless Plants » Green Algae: Precursors of Land Plants

Reproduction of Green Algae and Charales

Reproduction of Green Algae

Green algae reproduce both asexually, by fragmentation or dispersal of spores, or sexually, by producing gametes that fuse during fertilization. In a single-celled organism such as Chlamydomonas, there is no mitosis after fertilization. In the multicellular Ulva, a sporophyte grows by mitosis after fertilization. Both Chlamydomonas and Ulva produce flagellated gametes.


Green algae in the order Charales, and the coleochaetes (microscopic green algae that enclose their spores in sporopollenin), are considered the closest living relatives of embryophytes. The Charales can be traced back 420 million years. They live in a range of fresh water habitats and vary in size from a few millimeters to a meter in length. The representative species is Chara (see the figure below), often called muskgrass or skunkweed because of its unpleasant smell. Large cells form the thallus: the main stem of the alga.

Branches arising from the nodes are made of smaller cells. Male and female reproductive structures are found on the nodes, and the sperm have flagella. Unlike land plants, Charales do not undergo alternation of generations in their lifecycle. Charales exhibit a number of traits that are significant in their adaptation to land life. They produce the compounds lignin and sporopollenin, and form plasmodesmata that connect the cytoplasm of adjacent cells. The egg, and later, the zygote, form in a protected chamber on the parent plant.

 Chara is a water plant with a long, flexible green stem. Whorls of slender stalks periodically radiate from the stem.

The representative alga, Chara, is a noxious weed in Florida, where it clogs waterways. (credit: South Florida Information Access, U.S. Geological Survey)

New information from recent, extensive DNA sequence analysis of green algae indicates that the Zygnematales are more closely related to the embryophytes than the Charales. The Zygnematales include the familiar genus Spirogyra. As techniques in DNA analysis improve and new information on comparative genomics arises, the phylogenetic connections between species will change. Clearly, plant biologists have not yet solved the mystery of the origin of land plants.

Summarizing Green Algae: Precursors of Land Plants

Green algae share more traits with land plants than other algae, according to structure and DNA analysis. Charales form sporopollenin and precursors of lignin, phragmoplasts, and have flagellated sperm. They do not exhibit alternation of generations.



group that includes green algae and land plants

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