The origin and early evolution of vascular plant shoots and leaves

C Jill Harrison*, Jennifer L. Morris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)
482 Downloads (Pure)


The morphology of plant fossils from the Rhynie chert has generated long-standing questions about vascular plant shoot and leaf evolution, for instance, which morphologies were ancestral within land plants, when did vascular plants first arise and did leaves have multiple evolutionary origins? Recent advances combining insights from molecular phylogeny, palaeobotany and evo–devo research address these questions and suggest the sequence of morphological innovation during vascular plant shoot and leaf evolution. The evidence pinpoints testable developmental and genetic hypotheses relating to the origin of branching and indeterminate shoot architectures prior to the evolution of leaves, and demonstrates underestimation of polyphyly in the evolution of leaves from branching forms in ‘telome theory’ hypotheses of leaf evolution. This review discusses fossil, developmental and genetic evidence relating to the evolution of vascular plant shoots and leaves in a phylogenetic framework.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160496
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1739
Early online date18 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2018


  • Devo
  • Evo
  • Land plant
  • Leaf evolution
  • Plant body plan
  • Shoot


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