Cells get nutrients from their environment, but where do those nutrients come from? Virtually all organic material on Earth has been produced by cells that convert energy from the Sun into energy-containing macromolecules. This process, called photosynthesis, is essential to the global carbon cycle and organisms that conduct photosynthesis represent the lowest level in most food chains (Figure 1).

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Figure 1:Photosynthetic plants synthesize carbon-based energy molecules from the energy in sunlight. Consequently, they provide an abundance of energy for other organisms.
Plants exist in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. (A) Coleochaete orbicularis (Charophyceae) gametophyte; magnification x 75 (photograph courtesy of L. E. Graham). (B) Chara (Charophyceae) gametophyte; magnification x 1.5 (photograph courtesy of M. Feist). (C) Riccia (liverwort) gametophyte showing sporangia (black) embedded in the thallus; magnification x 5 (photograph courtesy of A. N. Drinnan). (D) Anthoceros (hornwort) gametophyte showing unbranched sporophytes; magnification x 2.5 (photograph courtesy of A. N. Drinnan). (E) Mnium (moss) gametophyte showing unbranched sporophytes with terminal sporangia (capsule); magnification x 4.5 (photograph courtesy of W. Burger). (F) Huperzia (clubmoss) sporophyte with leaves showing sessile yellow sporangia; magnification x 0.8. (G) Dicranopteris (fern) sporophyte showing leaves with circinate vernation; magnification x 0.08. (H) Psilotum (whisk fern) sporophyte with reduced leaves and spherical synangia (three fused sporangia); magnification x 0.4. (I) Equisetum (horsetail) sporophyte with whorled branches, reduced leaves, and a terminal cone; magnification x 0.4. (J) Cycas (seed plant) sporophyte showing leaves and terminal cone with seeds; magnification x 0.05 (photograph courtesy of W. Burger).
© 1993 Elsevier Part A: Graham, L. E. Origin of land plants. New York: J. Wiley and Sons, 1993. All rights reserved. Part B: courtesy of M. Feist, University of Montpellier. Parts C and D: courtesy of Andrew Drinnan, Univeristy of Melbourne, School of Botany. Parts E, F and J: Courtesy of William Burger, Field Museum, Chicago.

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Coleochaete orbicularis. Both the gametophyte and the background are bright green. The gametophyte has an irregular circular shape and a scalloped edge. It is divided into many box-like segments (cells), each with a visible, round nucleus inside. Panel b shows a Chara gametophyte. The organism has branching, tendril-like leaves reaching from a primary stalk. The green leaves are punctuated with small, round, yellow structures. A green liverwort gametophyte, In panel c, is protruding from the soil. Its four primary stems each diverge into two halves and then branch again at their termini, so that each has a forked end. Panel d shows a hornwort gametophyte. Each green stem resembles a single blade of grass. Panel e shows moss gametophytes with sporophytes protruding from the ground. The gametophytes have small green leaves, and the sporophytes are thin, unbranched, brown stalks. Each sporophyte has a fluorescent orange, oviform capsule called a sporangia perched on top of its stalk. Panel f shows six clubmoss sporophytes emanating from the ground. Some stand vertically out of the soil, and some curve or have fallen horizontally. They have many stiff, protruding, spine-like, green leaves. The sporangia are small yellow balls at the base of the leaves. Panel g shows fern sporophytes with many stems covered with small, elongated, symmetrical green leaves. Panel h shows a whisk fern sporophyte with long, straight, green stems beaded with yellow, round synangia along their lengths. In panel i, a horsetail sporophyte is shown. It has a single long stem, which is surrounded by a skirt of green leaves at its base and an elongated, yellow cone at the top. In Panel j, a large Cycas seed plant sporophyte is shown. Long fronds emanate upwards from the plant"s trunk, and in the center of them there is a large mass called the cone." href="javascript:void(0)" onclick="callNewShowInformConceptAfterPublish("true","true","Y","/scitable/content/ne0000/ne0000/ne0000/ne0000/14667822/U1.cp4.1_389033ab.tif.2.jpg", "Photosynthetic plants synthesize carbon-based energy molecules from the energy in sunlight. Consequently, they provide an abundance of energy for other organisms.", "Figure 1", "Plants exist in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. (A) Coleochaete orbicularis (Charophyceae) gametophyte; magnification x 75 (photograph courtesy of L. E. Graham). (B) Chara (Charophyceae) gametophyte; magnification x 1.5 (photograph courtesy of M. Feist). (C) Riccia (liverwort) gametophyte showing sporangia (black) embedded in the thallus; magnification x 5 (photograph courtesy of A. N. Drinnan). (D) Anthoceros (hornwort) gametophyte showing unbranched sporophytes; magnification x 2.5 (photograph courtesy of A. N. Drinnan). (E) Mnium (moss) gametophyte showing unbranched sporophytes with terminal sporangia (capsule); magnification x 4.5 (photograph courtesy of W. Burger). (F) Huperzia (clubmoss) sporophyte with leaves showing sessile yellow sporangia; magnification x 0.8. (G) Dicranopteris (fern) sporophyte showing leaves with circinate vernation; magnification x 0.08. (H) Psilotum (whisk fern) sporophyte with reduced leaves and spherical synangia (three fused sporangia); magnification x 0.4. (I) Equisetum (horsetail) sporophyte with whorled branches, reduced leaves, and a terminal cone; magnification x 0.4. (J) Cycas (seed plant) sporophyte showing leaves and terminal cone with seeds; magnification x 0.05 (photograph courtesy of W. Burger).", "620", "http://www.elsevier.com/", "Ten photosynthetic plants are pictured in a series of photographs labeled a through j. Panel a is a photomicrograph of a gametophyte of a microscopic green alga called Coleochaete orbicularis. Both the gametophyte and the background are bright green. The gametophyte has an irregular circular shape and a scalloped edge. It is divided into many box-like segments (cells), each with a visible, round nucleus inside. Panel b shows a Chara gametophyte. The organism has branching, tendril-like leaves reaching from a primary stalk. The green leaves are punctuated with small, round, yellow structures. A green liverwort gametophyte, In panel c, is protruding from the soil. Its four primary stems each diverge into two halves and then branch again at their termini, so that each has a forked end. Panel d shows a hornwort gametophyte. Each green stem resembles a single blade of grass. Panel e shows moss gametophytes with sporophytes protruding from the ground. The gametophytes have small green leaves, and the sporophytes are thin, unbranched, brown stalks. Each sporophyte has a fluorescent orange, oviform capsule called a sporangia perched on top of its stalk. Panel f shows six clubmoss sporophytes emanating from the ground. Some stand vertically out of the soil, and some curve or have fallen horizontally. They have many stiff, protruding, spine-like, green leaves. The sporangia are small yellow balls at the base of the leaves. Panel g shows fern sporophytes with many stems covered with small, elongated, symmetrical green leaves. Panel h shows a whisk fern sporophyte with long, straight, green stems beaded with yellow, round synangia along their lengths. In panel i, a horsetail sporophyte is shown. It has a single long stem, which is surrounded by a skirt of green leaves at its base and an elongated, yellow cone at the top. In Panel j, a large Cycas seed plant sporophyte is shown. Long fronds emanate upwards from the plant"s trunk, and in the center of them there is a large mass called the cone.")" class="inlineLinks">Figure Detail