The extant spermatophytes form five divisions, the first four of which are traditionally grouped as gymnosperms, plants that have unenclosed, "naked seeds":
The fifth extant division is the flowering plants, also known as angiosperms or magnoliophytes, the largest and most diverse group of spermatophytes. Angiosperms possess seeds enclosed in a fruit, unlike gymnosperms.
In addition to the taxa listed above, the fossil record contains evidence of many extinct taxa of seed plants. The so-called "seed ferns" (Pteridospermae) were one of the earliest successful groups of land plants, and forests dominated by seed ferns were prevalent in the late Paleozoic. Glossopteris was the most prominent tree genus in the ancient southern supercontinent of Gondwana during the Permian period. By the Triassic period, seed ferns had declined in ecological importance, and representatives of modern gymnosperm groups were abundant and dominant through the end of the Cretaceous, when angiosperms radiated.
A whole genome duplication event in the ancestor of seed plants occurred about . This gave rise to a series of evolutionary changes that resulted in the origin of seed plants.
A middle Devonian (385-million-year-old) precursor to seed plants from Belgium has been identified predating the earliest seed plants by about 20 million years. Runcaria, small and radially symmetrical, is an integumented megasporangium surrounded by a cupule. The megasporangium bears an unopened distal extension protruding above the mutlilobed integument. It is suspected that the extension was involved in anemophilous (wind) pollination. Runcaria sheds new light on the sequence of character acquisition leading to the seed. Runcaria has all of the qualities of seed plants except for a solid seed coat and a system to guide the pollen to the seed.