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After the BCMG program on Conifers some of us did some research on the topic and question of Ginkgo and Magnolia being conifers. I called our program speaker Alison Litchy and emailed a page of my findings with resources from my research:
Gymnosperms - Home | Botany Department www.botany.wisc.edu
Both said we would do further research. Alison in turn emailed her sources:
The American Conifer Society uses it as a conifer: http://conifersociety.org/conifers/conifer/ginkgo/biloba/
The Missouri Botanical garden also does. I went to school near here so I may have picked it up from there too.
My findings are as follows: A lesson in botany:
Classification for Kingdom Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
The gymnosperms and angiosperms together compose the spermatophytes or seed plants.
The living spermatophytes form five groups, the first four traditionally grouped as "gymnosperms":
The gymnosperms are a group of seed-producing plants that includes conifers, cycads, Ginkgo, and gnetophytes. The term "gymnosperm" comes from the Greek meaning "naked seeds", for the unenclosed condition of their seeds (called ovules in their unfertilized state). Their naked condition stands in contrast to the seeds and ovules of flowering plants (angiosperms), which are enclosed within an ovary. Gymnosperm seeds develop either on the surface of scales or leaves, often modified to form cones, or at the end of short stalks as in Ginkgo.
Angiosperms: flowering plants also known as Angiospermae or Magnoliophyta. Like gymnosperms, angiosperms are seed-producing plants; they are distinguished from gymnosperms by characteristics including flowers, endosperm within the seeds, and the production of fruits that contain the seeds.
The term "angiosperm" comes from the Greek composite word (angeion, "case" or "casing", and sperma, "seed") meaning "enclosed seeds", after the enclosed condition of the seeds.
Conifers are in group of gymnosperms
Gingko is in a separate group of gymnosperms
Gingko is not a conifer
Angiosperms are the group of flowering plants
Magnolia is a flowering plant
Magnolia is not a conifer
My further research was to contact Tamara Walkingstick and received the following information and definition which both Alison and I agreed was best way to consider Ginkgo:
Hey Audrey, What an interesting question!! And the answer to the question of Gingko is of course, not simple. I think that this link is the best discussion of Gingko's place in the world. In a word, it is NOT a modern conifer. It is truly in a class all by itself. It is like ancient conifers but not modern conifers. So is it a conifer? No. But remember, of course, that there are lumpers and there a splitters when it comes to classification.
Cordaites - University of California Museum of Paleontology
The woody stems of Cordaites are placed in Mesoxylon (biseriate rays; ), Cordaixylon (uniseriate rays), Dadoxylon (when found in large pieces), and Pennsylvanioxylon.
Is it a type of gymnosperm? Yes.
Gymnosperms - Home | Botany Department
I. Classification. Four major groups within the gymnosperms are usually recognized - these sometimes each considered its own phylum (Cycadophyta, Ginkgophyta ...
So you nailed that.
And I've no idea why anyone would say that a magnolia is a conifer. Perhaps she meant to say "evergreen" which of course, does not mean coniferous. There is no botanist who would classify a magnolia as a conifer. I know Alison and I really think she must have misspoke.
Hope this is helpful!
And a follow-up email from Tamara:
Just another note to clarify: If one uses the definition of "coniferous" as meaning needle or scale like leaves, then ginkgo is not a conifer. If one defines coniferous as gymnosperm then it is. So it's probably best for us to talk about gymnosperms and angiosperm as opposed to broadleaf and conifer.
What was very interesting is that I asked a colleague about magnolia being a conifer and he said "yes" too until we took out some dendro books and looked at definitions.
1. any of numerous, chiefly evergreen trees or shrubs of the class Coniferinae (or group Coniferales), including the pine, fir, spruce, and other cone-bearing trees and shrubs, and also the yews and their allies that bear drupe like seeds.
2. a plant producing naked seeds in cones, or single naked seeds as in yews, but with pollen always borne in cones.
So again, Magnolia has pollen in the flowers and fleshy seeds and broad leaves. Therefore NOT a conifer.
Thanks for the interesting question and the diversion! Love stuff like this!
Tamara Walkingstick, Ph.D.
Associate Professor-Extension Forestry
Associate Director-Arkansas Forest Resources Center
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