Comparison of Ferns & Flowering Plants

Vascular plants are a foundation of life on Earth. Both ferns and flowering plants turn sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into food and oxygen. The fern family is ancient, whereas the flowering plant family, called angiosperms, is a more recent evolutionary development.

Ferns living on the forest floor.


The advanced vascular system in the leaf of a flowering plant.

Both ferns and flowering plants have roots and a vascular system that transports water and nutrients around the plant, although flowering plants have a much more advanced system. Although flowering plants now dominate the planet, ferns have managed to find niches to grow alongside their more-advanced cousins in the same environmental conditions.

Sexual Reproduction

Spore production on the underside of a fern frond.

Flowering plants and ferns both go through a phase where male and female are separated into a sperm and egg, then reunited with fertilization. Flowering plants do this with pollination and seed production. Ferns produce spores that form a fingernail-sized, flat, heart-shaped leaf horizontally on the ground when germinated. The sexes then separate and the sperm swims through moisture on the leaf surface to the egg.


A fossil of an ancient fern species.

Flowering plants are considered by botanists to be more advanced than ferns. Seeds have enabled flowering plants to spread to different climate conditions that are not moist enough to enable fern reproduction. In moist, low-light conditions, such as a rainforest floor, ferns have the advantage over flowering plants because they can survive with less light.