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Roots of extant vascular plants proliferate through lateral branching (euphyllophytes) or dichotomy (lycophytes)1-4. The origin of these distinct modes of branching was key for plant evolution because they enabled the development of structurally and functionally different root systems that supported a diversity of shoot systems3-6. It has been unclear when lateral branching originated and how many times it evolved4,7,8. Here, we report that many euphyllophytes that were extant during the Devonian and Carboniferous periods developed dichotomous roots. Our data indicate that dichotomous root branching evolved in both lycophytes and euphyllophytes. Lateral roots then evolved at different times in three major lineages of extant euphyllophytes-the lignophytes, ferns and horsetails. The multiple origins of dichotomous and lateral root branching are extreme cases of convergent evolution that occurred during the Devonian and Carboniferous periods when the land-plant flora underwent a radiation in morphological diversity.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Plants

Publication Date





454 - 459