Vascular vs. Non-vascular Plants: 17 Differences, Examples

Differences Between Vascular and Non-vascular plants
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Vascular Plants Definition

Vascular plants, also known as tracheophytes, are plants found on land that have lignified tissues for conducting water and minerals throughout the body of the plant.

  • These lignified tissues are also called vascular tissue and consist of water-conducting xylem tissue and food-conducting phloem tissue.
  • Vascular tissue forms a central column, also called stele, through the plant axis for the transport of different substances.
  • Vascular plants are said to have a true stem, leaves, and roots due to the presence of vascular tissues.
  • The root is a true root that enables the plant to anchor onto the soil and gets nutrients from it.
  • The leaves are broad and have stomata that work for gas exchange and support transpiration.
  • The stem of vascular plants is multilayered with vascular tissue that helps in the protection and conduction of food and water.
  • The arrangement of these issues might be different in a different group of plants as it depends on the pattern of division of cells.
  • The xylem is composed of non-living matter, tracheids, and vesicles, hardened by lignin that provides a stiff structure to the tissue. The phloem, on the other hand, contains living sieve elements that are not lignified.
  • Vascular plants are capable of surviving on land due to their ability to transport food, water, and mineral to different parts of the plant by creating pressure through the tissues.
  • Besides, they also have several modifications that facilitate their survival on land.
  • Another essential characteristic of vascular plants is that the principal generation phase in these plants is the sporophytic phase where they produce diploid spores.
  • Vascular plants are tall and large in size compared to the non-vascular plants because of their ability to transport necessary substances to all parts of the body via vascular tissue.
  • It is believed that vascular plants are a more evolved version of non-vascular plants and thus came later in the evolutionary history.
  • Vascular plants are divided into two groups; non-seed plants or lower vascular plants or cryptograms and seed plants or higher vascular plants or phanerogams.
  • The lower vascular plants include plants like ferns that although are adapted to survive on land still have some characteristics of their aquatic ancestry. These plants belong to the group Pteridophyta.
  • The higher vascular plants are numerous and extremely diverse and are further divided into different subgroups.
  • Some examples of vascular plants include maize, mustard, rose, cycad, ferns, clubmosses, grasses, etc.

Non-vascular Plants Definition

Non-vascular plants, also known as bryophytes or lower plants, are plants mostly found in damp and moist areas and lack specialized vascular tissues.

  • Both xylem and phloem are absent in these plants, and thus they are primitive plants with primitive parts.
  • Non-vascular plants consist of higher structural forms of algae, mosses, liverworts, and hornworts.
  • These mostly live in water and in swampy, bogs, or shady locations. These are also comparatively shorter and simpler as they are limited due to the lack of vascular tissues.
  • Non-vascular plants do not have true roots, stems, or leaves and the tissues present are the least specialized forms of tissue.
  • Instead of true roots, they have rhizoids that are hair-like structures that support the plant firmly to the ground. The absorption of water and mineral in the rhizoids occurs by diffusion and osmosis.
  • True leaves are also absent with no specialized tissue for the protection of water loss or the process of transpiration.
  • The stem is made up of simpler tissue and is weak that cannot hold the plant like in vascular plants.
  • In non-vascular plants, the gametophyte generation is more dominant with haploid gametophyte. The sporophytes of these plants develop from the gametophytes and are dependent on the gametophytes for water and minerals.
  • Non-vascular plants are the primitive plants that appear first during the evolutionary process.
  • These plants consist of two major groups of plants; algae and bryophytes.
  • Algae are green colored lower plants that are capable of photosynthesis but lack true structures.
  • Bryophytes consist of plants like most mosses and liverworts which are found in shady areas and feed on dead and decaying matter.
  • Non-vascular plants often act as pioneer species as they do not require much nutrients or water for their survival and can grow on barren lands.
  • Using several evolved techniques, a non-vascular plant is capable of surviving in areas inhabited by vascular plants.
  • Some examples of non-vascular plants include moss, algae, liverwort, and hornwort.

Key differences (Vascular plants vs Non-vascular plants)

Basis for Comparison

Vascular plants

Non-vascular plants

Definition Vascular plants are plants found on land that have lignified tissues for conducting water and minerals throughout the body of the plant. Non-vascular plants are plants mostly found in damp and moist areas and lack specialized vascular tissues.
Also known as Vascular plants are also known as tracheophytes. Non-vascular plants are also known as bryophytes or lower plants.
Diversity Vascular plants are numerous and more diverse than non-vascular plants. Non-vascular plants are fewer in number and are less diverse compare to vascular plants.
Habitat Vascular plants are land plants that can inhabit multiple environments. Non-vascular plants are mostly found in damp, shady, or swampy areas.
Vascular system Vascular plants are characterized by the presence of a vascular tissue system with lignified xylem tissue and sieved phloem tissue. The absence of a vascular tissue system characterizes non-vascular plants.
Cell arrangement Division of labor is a prominent feature of vascular plants where the arrangement of cells is more complex and mostly characteristics to individual families. The arrangement of cells in non-vascular plants is a lot simpler than that in vascular plants.
Strength The lignified tissue system is strong and rigid, which provides support and rigidity to the plant. Non-vascular plants are tender and shorter than vascular plants due to the unavailability of water-conducting tissue.
Lifecycle The prominent life cycle in vascular plants is the sporophyte, where they produce spores that are diploid. The prominent or dominating lifecycle in non-vascular plants is gametophyte where they produce gametes that are haploid.
Root The root in vascular plants is true with branches that support and adhere to the plant to the soil to obtain nutrients from it. Non-vascular plants have rhizoids with fine hair-like structures instead of true roots.
The roots absorb the water and mineral required for the plant from the soil. They obtain their water, nutrients, and minerals from the soil via diffusion or osmosis.
Stem The stem in vascular plants is multilayered with xylem and phloem that form a conducting pathway passing through the principal axis. No true stem is found in non-vascular plants.
Leaves True leaves are present which are of defined shapes and have an important function in photosynthesis. True leaves are absent.
Stomata are found on the leaves that are important for gas exchange. The leaves do not have specialized tissue for gas exchange or transpiration.
Cuticles Leaves and other parts have cuticles that protect the plant against desiccation. These plants do not have cuticles.
Evolution Vascular plants are more advanced forms of non-vascular plants that appeared later than non-vascular plants on earth. Non-vascular plants were among the first plants to appear on earth.
Pioneer species Vascular plants appear later in ecological succession and thus do not form a part of pioneer species. Non-vascular plants appear as pioneer species in several ecological successions.
Examples Some examples of vascular plants include maize, mustard, rose, cycad, ferns, clubmosses, grasses, etc. Some examples of non-vascular plants include moss, algae, liverwort, and hornwort.

Read Also: Plant cell- definition, labeled diagram, structure, parts, organelles

Examples of vascular plants


  • A fern is an example of lower vascular plants that have specialized conducting tissues; xylem and phloem, necessary for the transport of water, mineral, and food particles.
  • These are non-flowering vascular plants with true stems, roots, and leaves and reproduce by spores.
  • The number of species of fern known till now ranges from 10,000 to 11,000, but some estimates indicate than more than 15,000 species might be present including those in explored areas of tropical forests.
  • These plants are diverse in habitat, forms, and reproductive methods. Their sizes also range from being flimsy and small to tall trees up to 25 meters in height.
  • Ferns are mostly in damp and warm areas, and their number goes on decreasing with increasing altitudes and decreasing moisture.
  • Ferns are important during ecological succession where they grow in crevices of bare rocks and in marsh areas before the growth of woody vegetation.
  • Dispersal of spores and their ability to produce both gametes and self-fertilize allows long-distance dispersal of these plants.


  • Cycads are gymnosperms or non-flowering vascular plants with developed roots, stems, leaves, and vascular systems.
  • These are huge trees that grow up to three to five feet in height with woody stems.
  • Only around 15-20 species of cycads are known which are widely distributed in the western as well as an eastern hemisphere.
  • These plants are found in forests but are also planted by farmers for woods and fodders for animals.
  • Their appearance constitutes a single, stout, cylindrical, woody trunk and a crown of large, hard, stiff, evergreen compound leaves that grow into a rosette formation.
  • These plants are deciduous and unique among gymnosperms for forming seed cones in female plants instead of a group of leaf-life structure (megasporophyll) with seeds in male individuals.
  • Some species of cycads such as C. circinalis, C. bedomei are grown as ornamental plants in gardens.
  • Cycads are also called as sago palm as from the stem of some species, a kind of starch popularly called ‘sago’ is obtained.
  • The leaves of C. revolute are used to prepare hats, basket, and mates. The leaves are also be used for floral decoration and other decorative purposes.

Examples of non-vascular plants


  • Moss is a non-vascular plant found mostly in all environments but mostly found in dark and swampy areas.
  • These are among the few living beings, called pioneer species, that are among the first living organisms to colonize barren and soil-less lands. These are mostly seen in carpet woodlands and forest floors.
  • There are approximately 12,000 species of mosses known worldwide that colonize habitat from cold arctic to desert lands.
  • Their size is also diverse where some are microscopic while others are over a foot tall.
  • They cannot grow much in height because of the lack of vascular tissue, due to which they cannot transport water and mineral to the top part of the plant.
  • In the place of roots, they have rhizoids that are not effective for the absorption of water and minerals from the soil.
  • The gametophytic phase is more dominant as the stem, or leaf-like structures are a part of the gametophyte.
  • The gametophyte develops to form the sporophytic phase that forms spores that help in reproduction.


  • Liverworts are primitive non-vascular plants that grow as small, leaf-like structures.
  • These are mostly found close to the ground in areas that are damp, shady, or swampy. Even though distributed worldwide, they are mostly found in tropical areas.
  • The thallus of the plant is the gametophytic structure of the plant that develops specialized organs to house the sporophytic phase.
  • Liverworts are similar to hornworts and can be distinguished from hornworts based on the differences in the structure of the thallus and the sporophyte.
  • These are primitive plants with a primitive structure like rhizoids in the place of roots for the attachment and absorption of water and minerals from the soil.
  • These are not particularly important to human beings but do act as food for animals, facilitate the decay of logs, and aid in the integration of rocks during ecological succession.
  • Liverworts are one of the pioneer species that are the first living beings to appear during primary succession.

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About Author

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Anupama Sapkota

Anupama Sapkota has a bachelor’s degree (B.Sc.) in Microbiology from St. Xavier's College, Kathmandu, Nepal. She is particularly interested in studies regarding antibiotic resistance with a focus on drug discovery.

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