Hydrophobia of gymnosperms: myth or reality? A global analysis

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According to the classical textbooks, the gymnosperms are the only seed plants without aquatic species. Recently, however, a set of virtually complete compilations on gymnosperms has been published, enabling a new evaluation of the putative hydrophobia of gymnosperms. This synthesis aims at portraying the relation of all extant gymnosperm species to aquatic and wetland habitats. We present a database of all 986 extant gymnosperm species with their ecological characteristics including 291 cycads, 80 gnetophytes, one ginkgophyte and 614 conifers. We define four categories reflecting the level of hydrophobia and hydrophily of all species and their possible adaptation to wetlands and/or aquatic habitats. Eighty-two percent (805) of the extant species of gymnosperms are clearly hydrophobic, but 18% (180) are classified as hydrophilic. The podocarp Retrophyllum minus is the only obligate inhabitant of aquatic habitats. This contribution classifies gymnosperms into four categories in reference to their physiological and morphological adaptation to a moisture gradient. It relativizes the putative hydrophobia of gymnosperms and provides new perspectives for research on gymnosperms.

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