Plants Rhyniophyta


Abbreviated Dendrogram
Chlorobionta ├─Chlorophyta └─Charophyta ├─(various green algae) └─Embryophyta ├─Bryophyta └─Rhyniophyta ├─Horneophytopsida └─┬─Aglaophyton └─┬─Rhyniopsida └─┬─Cooksonia ├─Eutracheophyta │ └─Lycophytina │ ├─Zosterophylopsida │ └─Lycopodopsida │ └?─Isoetopsida └─Euphyllophytina ├─Moniliformopses └─Spermatophytata ├─trimerophytes └─Spermatopsida

The Mosses
The Gametophyte
   Leaves and Peripheral Structures
The Sporophyte


The Rhyniophytes are a paraphyletic taxon comprising the first vascular land plants (Rhyniopsida) and their morphologically similar, but avascular, cousins. They thus have a key position in the history of life. The coverage includes a brief discussion of their structure and importance on this page. Individual pages are included on two very early forms, Horneophyton and Aglaophyton, as well as on two well-known, derived members of the monophyletic Rhyniopsida, Cooksonia and Rhynia.


Rhyniophyta: this overview page.

Horneophyton: a very simple, dichotomously branching form with terminal sporangia -- may or may not be vascular.

Aglaophyton: a larger (to 60 cm), and apparantly more terrestrial version of Horneophyton -- probably not vascular.

Cooksonia: a Silurian vascular plant.

Rhynia: a very well-known plant from the Rhynie Chert.

The flora that existed in the Upper Silurian to Lower Devonian was probably an assemblage of marsh inhabitants with structural feature transitional between aquatic non-vascular and land vascular plants. Of these, the Rhyniophyta are a small but prominent group that include some of the earliest and most primitive terrestrial plants.

The Early Rhyniophytes

stylised RhyniophyteIn these very primitive land plants in which there was little differentiation between the different parts. They had simple shoots rise from a creeping axis which hardly differs in structure from the upright shoots themselves. These shoots or stems often branched in a simple manner, forking into two, and then into two again, and sometimes the shoots terminated in spore capsules called sporangia. These ancient plants lacked leaves, seeds, and flowers. Instead of roots they had horizontal stems, connected with the soil by root hairs. The whole plant was generally less than 50 cm in height. At least one form, Taeniocrada is thought to have been aquatic, although whether a transitional forms from fresh water to land or secondarily aquatic is not clear

Included in the rhyniophytes are ancestral forms are the ancestral genus Cooksonia, from the late Silurian to early Devonian (Wenlock to Frasnian). By the Early Devonian more advanced types like Rhynia had evolved. Fossils of Rhynia from Devonian chert of Rhynie in Aberdeenshire, Scotland are so perfectly preserved that the individual cells within the plant tissue is recognizable.

There are also a number of related forms, like Aglaophyton, apparently not even true tracheophytes,


The following represents a suggested Linnean classification and time-line for the rhyniophytes and related forms. Not that the most primitive forms are not necessarily the oldest, indicating that either the evolutionary sequence presented here is incorrect, or that a lot of early plant evolution occurred in regions away from conditions allowing fossilization

Subphylum Rhyniophytina Class not specified Order not specified Aglaophyton - Pragian Class Horneophytopsida Order Horneophytales Family Horneophytaceae - Pragian Class Rhyniopsida Order not specified Cooksonia - Wenlock to Frasnian other rhyniophyte fossils Order Rhyniales Family Rhyniaceae - Lochkovian to Emsian


Period Silurian Devonian
Epoch/Age Wen. Lud. Prid. Loch. Prag. post- Prag.
Aglaophyton         ***  

Horneophytaceae         ***  

Cooksonia *** *** *** *** *** ***

Rhyniaceae       *** *** ***


The Biota of Early Terrestrial Ecosystems: The Rhynie Chert - Ongoing research into the stratigraphy, sedimentology and paleontology of an Early Devonian hot spring, by The Rhynie Chert Research Group: Aberdeen See especially The Rhynie Chert Flora

University of California Museum of Paleontology -- Rhynie Chert

Rhynie Research Index - The Rhynie Chert and its Flora.

Rhynie Chert Pictures - includes coverage of the most important flora

LES CORMOPHYTES (=premières plantes terrestres) -  Description et évolution des premières plantes terrestres - evolution of early land plants - in French

Early Land Plants

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