The class Cycadopsida, or cycads, are only the small evolutionary vestige of a large and varied group of plants that flourished in late Paleozoic and Mesozoic time. The only order of living cycads, the Cycadales, is dioecious, i.e., male and female cones are borne on separate plants. Although cycads resemble the palms in form and usually have erect stems that reach 50 ft (15 m) in height, they have very little wood; rather, they are supported largely by a hard outer layer of the stem. They have large, fernlike leaves and produce seeds in terminal cones. In their reproduction, pollen grains, or microspores, are transported by wind to the female spore case, or megasporangium. Within the microspore wall, motile flagellated sperms are produced, unlike the nonmotile sperms of the higher gymnosperms.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.