The Difference Between Vascular and Nonvascular Plants: Here Are Important Facts!

Plants what can you say about them? After all, there is probably not a day that goes by in your life where you are not near one at some point in that day. Despite being around plants so much, people often do not know much about them.


If you ask a person to describe a plant, they would most likely say they are living organisms in nature that have leaves, roots, stems and flowers. Though that would be partially correct it would only describe one of the two main plant categories.

Most plant species fall into one of the two categories that are known as vascular or nonvascular plants. Let’s talk a little more about the difference between vascular and nonvascular plants.

What Are Vascular Plants?

This is the plant category that most closely fits what people think all plants actually are. They have roots, stems, leaves and tubular sets of tissues that are found throughout their bodies. It is a plant category that includes several different types of plants that most people will easily recognize.

Examples of vascular plants include roses, wheat and maple trees.

Here is a video that goes into a little more detail about this category of plants:

Taking a Closer Look at Mysterious Nonvascular Plants

Many people do not even realize that this category of plant life exists. It is a category of plants that has had to become very adaptive to the types of somewhat harsh and sunlight deprived environments that they grow in.

Plant experts are fairly impressed with the way these plants have evolved over time to survive and live in growing environments that are hard for vascular plants to survive.

Examples of nonvascular plants include mosses, hornworts and liverworts (these are sometimes called ‘bryophytes’).

Here is a clip from a biology education video that will give you a nice introduction to nonvascular plants:

Major Differences between Vascular and Nonvascular Plants

Here are the differences between these two categories of plants in list form:

1. Nutrient Distribution

Vascular Plants

This is the main difference between these two major plant categories and it’s the very thing that determines which category a plant variety belongs too. Vascular and nonvascular plants feed their plant bodies in two very different ways.

Vascular plants have roots that pick up nutrients from the ground and pass these nutrients to the stem of the plants. The nutrients are delivered by tubes like tissues/vessels called xylem and phloem.

Think of these two types of plant tissue as food elevators if you will. Xylems are the elevators that go up and carry water and nutrients that are found in the ground up into the main vascular plant body for distribution. Phloems are the elevators that go down and carry nutrients that are synthesized by leaves down into the main body of a vascular plant.

Nonvascular plants on the other hand have no such tube like tissues in them. In short, they do not have xylem and phloem and that makes them very different from vascular plants.

How then do nonvascular plants get the nutrients and water they need to survive? They actually absorb the moisture and nutrients they need right through the plant body itself.

2. Ground Support

Growing plant with underground root

The roots on vascular plants not only provide a means for a plant to get water and nutrients from the ground but they are also the anchors that attach a plant to the ground.

These root structures can be extremely vast and complex on some forms of vascular plants. Roots do a great job of holding plants firmly in place in all types of weather conditions.

Nonvascular plants do not have any roots. As a matter of fact, the closest things they have to roots are called rhizoids. These are more like short hairs that stick out of a nonvascular plant that actually sticks slightly into the ground. They provide very little actual support to the plant.

3. Reproduction


Reproduction occurs differently between vascular and nonvascular plants too.

Most vascular plants reproduce by spreading seeds or by flowering. Some of the reproduction strategies in these types of plants can actually be very complex.

Nonvascular plants have much simpler reproductive strategies than vascular plants do. The vast majority of nonvascular plants reproduce in one of two different ways.

This is either by producing single cell spores or by a process an asexual reproduction process known as vegetative propagation. Vegetative propagation is one a part of a nonvascular plant breaks off and falls to the ground and forms an entirely new plant with the same cell structure.

4. Size

Big Tree

The lignified tissues that vascular plants have to offer them some big advantages over nonvascular plants. These tissues nourish the entire plant body well so they can grow bigger in size.

These tissues also make vascular plants more rigid and stable so they can handle increased growth. That is why vascular plants such as trees can go so big and strong.

Since nonvascular plants do not have lignified tissues it greatly restricts the size they can grow to. Nonvascular plants are also considered to be very soft and tender types of plants.

5. Natural Habitat

Forest river landscape

Vascular plants can be found just about anywhere. That is because they can survive anyplace they can get water from the ground below and have conditions favorable to food synthesis from above.

It is not uncommon to see vascular plants even growing in places that have little sunlight or very dry conditions.

On the other hand, nonvascular plants are severely restricted to the areas where they find the conditions right for growth.

Because they do not have roots that can travel far away from the plant to get water, it restricts the habitats of these plants to places where they can get an abundance of moisture very close by. Examples of this would be swamps and bogs.

6. Diversity Among Plants in that Category

mixed planting

There is very little diversity among nonvascular plants because there are not so many varieties of them. Quite the opposite is true with vascular plants.

That is because there are thousands of different plants that have unique characteristics. So there is a huge amount of diversity among vascular plant life.

7. Drought Resistance

Drought resistance

We mentioned that vascular plants often have extensive root systems on themselves. This means these plants roots will spread if they do not have water in the immediate area of the plant. That makes them very efficient at getting the necessary water they need to survive even in drought-like conditions.

Nonvascular plants have no such complex root systems. They rely heavily on moisture being in the immediate area that they are growing in. That is why these plants have very little chance of survival if a drought comes to the area they are growing in.

Here is a video that takes the time to go into much more detail about the major differences between vascular and nonvascular plants:

You Now Are Well On Your Way to Becoming A Vascular and Nonvascular Plant Expert

So now if you are walking through a swamp or a garden you will be able to amaze your friends and tell them which plants are vascular plants and which plants are nonvascular plants. All kidding aside, it’s important that people be able to tell the difference between these two categories of plants.

This is because they are separate and unique in the way they each translocate water and in how they are structured. That makes a big difference if you are a home gardener and raising plants in either of these two categories.

We hope this article helped you increase your knowledge of the two different plant categories and the unique features of each of them. As always we welcome your questions and comments about the article.

About the Author Laura Bennett

Hello, I’m Laura Bennett. I love nature especially when it comes to flowers and different kinds of plants. I started a very small garden behind my house and I named it Humid Garden. So, I created this blog to provide aspiring and inspiring thoughts about gardening for gardeners and anyone who has the intention of keeping a garden.

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