Angiosperms. The botanical term "Angiosperm" (ἀγγεῖον, receptacle, and σπέρμα, seed) was coined in the form Angiospermae by Paul Hermann in 1690, as the name of that one of his primary divisions of the plant kingdom, which included flowering plants possessing seeds enclosed in capsules, in contradistinction to his Gymnospermae, or flowering plants with achenial or schizo-carpic fruits - the whole fruit or each of its pieces being here regarded as a seed and naked. The term and its antonym were maintained by Linnaeus with the same sense, but with restricted application, in the names of the orders of his class Didynamia. Its use with any approach to its modern scope only became possible after Robert Brown had established in 1827 the existence of truly naked seeds in the Cycadeae and Coniferae, entitling them to be correctly called Gymnosperms. From that time onwards, so long as these Gymnosperms were, as was usual, reckoned as dicotyledonous flowering plants, the term Angiosperm was used antithetically by botanical writers, but with varying limitation, as a group-name for other dicotyledonous plants.

The advent in 1851 of Hofmeister's brilliant discovery of the changes proceeding in the embryo-sac of flowering plants, and his determination of the correct relationships of these with the Cryptogamia, fixed the true position of Gymnosperms as a class distinct from Dicotyledons, and the term Angiosperm then gradually came to be accepted as the suitable designation for the whole of the flowering plants other than Gymnosperms, and as including therefore the classes of Dicotyledons and Monocotyledons. This is the sense in which the term is nowadays received and in which it is used here.

The trend of the evolution of the plant kingdom has been in the direction of the establishment of a vegetation of fixed habit and adapted to the vicissitudes of a life on land, and the Angiosperms are the highest expression of this evolution and constitute the dominant vegetation of the earth's surface at the present epoch. There is no land-area from the poles to the equator, where plant-life is possible, upon which Angiosperms are not found. They occur also abundantly in the shallows of rivers and fresh-water lakes, and in less number in salt lakes and in the sea; such aquatic Angiosperms are not, however, primitive forms, but are derived from immediate land-ancestors. Associated with this diversity of habitat is great variety in general form and manner of growth. The familiar duckweed which covers the surface of a pond consists of a tiny green "thalloid" shoot, one, that is, which shows no distinction of parts - stem and leaf, and a simple root growing vertically downwards into the water.

The great forest-tree has a shoot, which in the course perhaps of hundreds of years, has developed a wide-spreading system of trunk and branches, bearing on the ultimate twigs or branchlets innumerable leaves, while beneath the soil a widely-branching root-system covers an area of corresponding extent. Between these two extremes is every conceivable gradation, embracing aquatic and terrestrial herbs, creeping, erect or climbing in habit, shrubs and trees, and representing a much greater variety than is to be found in the other subdivision of seed-plants, the Gymnosperms.