Non-flowering plants, or gymnosperms, produce seeds and have a multitude of uses, including for evergreen landscaping, lumber, paper, food, fuel and medicine. There are more than 700 types of non-flowering plants, among them encephalartos, ferns, horsetail and conifers such as pines, hemlocks and firs. Each has unique characteristics and maintenance instructions.
Encephalartos horridus is native to southern Africa and grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet. This non-flowering evergreen belongs to the Zamiaceae family and requires full sun, fertile soil and moderate moisture. Characteristic of this tropical plant are broad, blue-green leaves that provide year-long interest to gardens in frost-free growing zones. You can also grow the plant indoors in cooler climates.
According to the American Fern Society, ferns have a history that extends back millions of years. There are approximately 12,000 varieties of ferns around the globe. All ferns share a characteristic structure that includes fronds, rhizomes, sporangiia, roots and spores. Fronds, or the leaves, have two components: the stipe (or leaf stalk) and the blade (the leafy part). Frond size may range from fractions of an inch to several feet in length. Rhizomes, or stems, function to carry nutrients, minerals and water all through the plant. Sporangiia are the reproductive organs of the fern. Roots function as an anchor, attaching the plant to the ground and absorbing minerals and water. Spores, or seeds, are created in bunches of four and often contain chlorophyll and oil droplets.
Horsetail, or equisetum, is characterized by vibrant green stalks that reach approximately 4 feet tall. It can be an attractive garden accent; however, it spreads vigorously and may invade other landscaping. For that reason, according to The Backyard Gardener, it is wise to plant horsetail in a container placed into the ground. The plant requires partial to full shade and thrives near pools or moist areas. It is an evergreen with foliage of varying colors, including black, gold, yellow-green, deep green and bright green. Horsetail reputedly works as a diuretic; may also be helpful in treating osteoporosis, brittle nails and kidney stones; and can serve as a topical treatment for minor wounds. There is little research supporting these uses, though.
The conifer family includes trees such as Ginkgo biloba and pines. Ginkgos are deciduous trees characterized by fan-shaped leaves and an asymmetrical shape. Ginkgo may treat ailments such as bronchitis, asthma and ringing in the ears, and is widely known for its memory-enhancing properties. Pine trees are non-flowering plants with more than 100 varieties. These evergreens feature green needles of varying lengths and colors, and cones that contain the tree’s seeds.