What are Monocots?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Monocots are a class of angiosperm, or flowering plant, distinguished from dicots. The distinction was first established by botanist John Ray in 1682. Scientists today do not consider Ray’s description perfect, however monocots are still the most popularly known classification of angiosperms. The terms monocot and dicot are short for the longer names Monocotyledonae and Dicotyledonae, which refer to the number of cotyledons, or "seed leaves," in the plant's embryo; one and two, respectively.

A palm tree, a type of monocot.
A palm tree, a type of monocot.

Monocots are distinguished from dicots by their physical characteristics. In addition to having a single cotyledon in their embryo, they also feature pollen with a single furrow or pore, while dicot pollen has three furrows. Most of the other monocot features are easier for the casual observer to identify.

Potatoes are monocots, a type of angiosperm.
Potatoes are monocots, a type of angiosperm.

Perhaps the simplest way to distinguish monocots from dicots is by counting flower parts. Petals, stamens, and so on tend to appear in multiples of three on monocots, while dicot flowers tend to have parts divisible by four or five. While this is sometimes the easiest way to figure out what type of angiosperm you are dealing with, it is not always reliable and may be difficult to determine in plants with elaborate flowers containing many parts.

In monocots, the leaf veins tend to run parallel to the length of the leaf, while dicot leaves feature more branching, reticulate veins. Similarly, the vascular system in the plant's stem, which serves to transport water and nutrients through the plant, appears in a regular, cylindrical pattern in the dicot stem, but a more random, scattered pattern in the monocot stem. Therefore, a dicot may be identified by looking at a cross section of the stem and marking a ring of small circles. Both of these methods for distinguishing monocots from dicots are not foolproof.

The roots of monocots and dicots also grow in different ways. Dicots feature an apical meristem, an area of undifferentiated embryonic tissue at the bottom of the stem that produces roots throughout the plant's lifetime. Monocots, on the other hand, have adventitous roots that arise from nodes on the stem.

Monocots are also distinguished by the lack of secondary growth, or wood. Some dicots cannot produce wood, however no monocots can. Some monocots appear to be woody, such as palm trees, but the wood-like trunk is actually an accumulation of leaf bases.

All angiosperms transport materials within the plant itself via xylem and phloem.
All angiosperms transport materials within the plant itself via xylem and phloem.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments

anon286957

Are monocots, such as palms, able to store carbohydrates, like most dicots or woody trees?

anon159709

Thank you for the information, this will be really helpful with my biology class.

lovelife

Did you know that many grains are actually monocots? It's true, many of the grains we eat every day -- corn, wheat, barley, etc. -- are all monocots, though we often don't realize it since they don't have blooms the way many other monocots (or for that matter dicots) do.

donbri5

Thanks for the information -- I'm just starting to get into this in my botany class, and this really helped solidify the difference in my mind. I just with there was as easy a way to distinguish between the different types of algae as there are dicot and monocot plants!

FernValley

For the casual botanist, of course, it might be difficult to identify a monocot vs dicot using some of the classifications listed here, in particular dicots' roots or monocots' roots. Fortunately, many botany field guides also will tell you if a plant you're trying to identify is a monocot or dicot.

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