Monocots: Life History and Ecology

Monocot ecology is too diverse to discuss beyond generalizations or on a group by group basis. For information beyond that presented below, you might look at the ecology and life history pages of the plants, the seed plants, or the flowering plants. We recommend that you look at those pages, or click on the "Systematics" button at the top of this page to access information on specific groups of monocots.

Monocots grow in a wide range of habitats.

Monocots are primarily tropical, with the exception of the Liliales, Asparagales, and Glumiflorae. In fact most species were completely unknown before intensive tropical botany began in this century. Despite their greatest numbers being present in the tropics, many monocots exist in other environments as well -- along and in streams and ponds, in coastal marine environments, in deserts, and even on the arctic tundra.

Most large floating and submerged aquatic plants are monocots, mostly in the Alismatiflorae. Water hyacinths, duckweed, and pondweed are all aquatic monocots. Some of these, such as the water hyacinth (Eichhornia) have become serious weeds in American waterways; the picture above shows a dense patch of Eichhornia crassipes growing west of Stockton, California. A number of aquatic monocots have also become popular in fresh-water aquariums, such as Valisneria and Potamogeton. Perhaps the most important of these aquatic monocots are the sea grasses, which provide food and habitat for a wide variety of marine organisms.

Some of the most successful monocots to arrive rather late on the scene are the Glumiflorae, which include the grasses, sedges, rushes, and cattails. Though their fossil record extends back almost to the Cretaceous, these plants first began to dominate large areas only in the Oligocene and Miocene, when the Earth's climate cooled considerably. At that time, grasslands appeared as a major global vegetation type for the first time. Sedges and rushes became important in ponds and bogs, and also on the tundra.

One of the more novel habitats which plants occupy is the surface of trees and other large plants. These plants are called epiphytes, and are common among the monocots. Bromeliads, aroids, and orchids all have numerous species which live in the tops of tropical trees.

Image of Eichhornia courtesy the Jepson Herbarium, and used by permission.