The Gnetales are a class apart, including three living genera, of which we know next to nothing as regards their past history or line of descent.
Although there are several morphological features in the three genera of Gnetales which might seem to bring them into line with the Angiosperms, it is usual to regard these resemblances as parallel developments along distinct lines rather than to interpret them as evidence of direct relationship.
Flowers unisexual, except in a few cases (Gnetales) without a perianth.
Secondary xylem and phloem produced by a single cambium, or by successive cambial zones; no true vessels (except in the Gnetales) in the wood, and no companioncells in the phloem.
The three existing genera, usually spoken of as members of the Gnetales, differ from one another more than is consistent with their inclusion in a single family; we may therefore better express their diverse characters by regarding them as types of three separate families-0) Ephedroideae, genus Ephedra; (2) Welwitschioideae, genus Welwitschia; (3) Gnetoideae, genus Gnetum.
Our knowledge of the Gnetales leaves much to be desired, but such facts as we possess would seem to indicate that this group is of special importance as foreshadowing, more than any other Gymnosperms, the Angiospermous type.
In the more heterogeneous structure of the wood and in the possession of true vessels the Gnetales agree closely with the higher flowering plants.
17, C, a); he suggests they may represent vestigial structures pointing back to some ancestral form beyond the limits of the present group. The Gnetales probably had a separate origin from the other Gymnosperms; they carry us nearer to the Angiosperms, but we have as yet no satisfactory evidence that they represent a stage in the direct line of Angiospermic evolution.
It is not improbable that the three genera of this ancient phylum survive as types of a blindly-ending branch of the Gymnosperms; but be that as it may, it is in the Gnetales more than in any other Gymnosperms that we find features which help us to obtain a dim prospect of the lines along which the Angiosperms may have been evolved.
This genus is the only member of the Gnetales represented in Europe.
- This is by far the most remarkable member of the Gnetales, both as regards habit and the form of its flowers.
Gnetales: Hooker, " On Welwitschia mirabilis," Trans.