Life cycle of a plant: seeds, shoots and roots

Even an oak tree, which can grow to 40m, starts off as a small shoot. (WTPL/EAJanes)
Even an oak tree, which can grow to 40m, starts off as a small shoot. (WTPL/EAJanes)

Have you ever wondered where flowers come from? Or thought about how grass grows? From the tallest tree to the daintiest daisy, all plants have a fascinating life cycle. Read on to find out more.

Phase one: germination

Life starts small for plants, with most species having humble beginnings as a seed - the seeds of some flowers, such as foxglove, are no bigger than a grain of salt! A seed contains a tiny plant, which will start to emerge once the conditions are right - a process that is called germination. To be able to grow, most seeds need to be covered with soil, have access to water and a warm temperature. This is why the majority of flowers and plants start to grow in spring, as winter is too cold for germination.

Phase two: shoots and roots

Germination ends when the plant emerges from the soil and appears above ground. No longer a seed, it is now called a shoot. Once the shoot is exposed to sunlight, leaves will begin to grow and it is able to start producing its own food through photosynthesis. As well as growing up, the plant will have been growing down; roots develop and delve deep into the soil, absorbing the water and minerals needed for growth.

Head to the woods and see the life cycle of plants in action.

Find your nearest wood and get exploring.

Phase three: flowering

Once the shoot and roots are established, the plant will begin to flower. This is a key part of the life cycle, as it allows the plant to reproduce by making seeds of its own. The snowdrop is one of the first plants to flower in the UK, providing a sign that winter is coming to an end and spring is on its way.

Once grown, flowers produce pollen. To develop seeds, this pollen must then be transferred to another plant of the same species. This is achieved with a little help either from the wind or insects like bees and butterflies. Plants that rely on insects, such as bluebells and primroses, attract the creatures by producing bright and colourful flowers. The pollen is then transported as the insects fly from plant to plant. Those that transfer pollen through the wind, like grasses, have much smaller flowers that are harder to see. It's not just insects that are attracted to flowers, however. The sight of a woodland with wild flowers in full bloom is one of nature's greatest spectacles and has been drawing  people to the woods for centuries.

Snowdrops are among the first plants to flower, a welcome sign that spring is on the way. (Phil Formby/WTML)
Snowdrops are among the first plants to flower, a welcome sign that spring is on the way. (Phil Formby/WTML)

Phase four: fruiting

Once pollinated, the plant is able to produce seeds. But how do they make it into the soil where they can start to grow? The answer is fruit. Fruit develops around the seed, protecting it and helping it to reach the ground. For example, bramble produces blackberries, tasty fruit that is eaten by a variety of animals. When these animals go the toilet, the seeds come out in their poo and some will find their way into the soil, where they can germinate when the time is right. Other plants produce fruit that is transported by attaching itself to passing animals, while some rely on wind and water to carry their seeds.

Producing blackberries helps bramble to spread its seeds. (WTML/Ben Lee)
Producing blackberries helps bramble to spread its seeds. (WTML/Ben Lee)

Phase five: death

The life cycle of a plant is very different to our own and they do not die of old age in the same way humans do. Some, known as annuals, will complete their cycle within one year and then die, while a biennial will take two years to go through its life cycle. Other plants, called perennials, can repeat their life cycle over many years, with some, such as trees, potentially living for over a thousand years.

Head to the woods and see the life cycle of plants in action.

Find your nearest wood and get exploring.