Green land: Multiple perspectives on green algal evolution and the earliest land plants

Richard M. McCourt, Louise A. Lewis, Paul K. Strother, Charles F. Delwiche, Norman J. Wickett, Jan de Vries, John L. Bowman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Green plants, broadly defined as green algae and the land plants (together, Viridiplantae), constitute the primary eukaryotic lineage that successfully colonized Earth's emergent landscape. Members of various clades of green plants have independently made the transition from fully aquatic to subaerial habitats many times throughout Earth's history. The transition, from unicells or simple filaments to complex multicellular plant bodies with functionally differentiated tissues and organs, was accompanied by innovations built upon a genetic and phenotypic toolkit that have served aquatic green phototrophs successfully for at least a billion years. These innovations opened an enormous array of new, drier places to live on the planet and resulted in a huge diversity of land plants that have dominated terrestrial ecosystems over the past 500 million years. This review examines the greening of the land from several perspectives, from paleontology to phylogenomics, to water stress responses and the genetic toolkit shared by green algae and plants, to the genomic evolution of the sporophyte generation. We summarize advances on disparate fronts in elucidating this important event in the evolution of the biosphere and the lacunae in our understanding of it. We present the process not as a step-by-step advancement from primitive green cells to an inevitable success of embryophytes, but rather as a process of adaptations and exaptations that allowed multiple clades of green plants, with various combinations of morphological and physiological terrestrialized traits, to become diverse and successful inhabitants of the land habitats of Earth.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere16175
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • charophytes
  • desiccation stress response
  • green algal evolution
  • land plant phylogenomics
  • streptophytes
  • terrestrialization
  • zygnematophytes

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