The gymnosperms are a group of seed-producing plants that includes conifers, cycads, Ginkgo, and gnetophytes. The term "gymnosperm" comes from the Greek composite word γυμνόσπερμος (γυμνός gymnos, "naked" and σπέρμα sperma, "seed"), meaning "naked seeds". The name is based on the unenclosed condition of their seeds (called ovules in their unfertilized state). The non-encased condition of their seeds stands in contrast to the seeds and ovules of flowering plants (angiosperms), which are enclosed within an ovary. Gymnosperm seeds develop either on the surface of scales or leaves, which are often modified to form cones, or solitary as in Yew, Torreya, Ginkgo.
The gymnosperms and angiosperms together compose the spermatophytes or seed plants. The gymnosperms are divided into six phyla. Organisms that belong to the Cycadophyta, Ginkgophyta, Gnetophyta, and Pinophyta (also known as Coniferophyta) phyla are still in existence while those in the Pteridospermales and Cordaitales phyla are now extinct.
By far the largest group of living gymnosperms are the conifers (pines, cypresses, and relatives), followed by cycads, gnetophytes (Gnetum, Ephedra and Welwitschia), and Ginkgo biloba (a single living species).
Roots in some genera have fungal association with roots in the form of mycorrhiza (Pinus), while in some others (Cycas) small specialised roots called coralloid roots are associated with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria.
In early classification schemes, the gymnosperms (Gymnospermae) were regarded as a "natural" group. There is conflicting evidence on the question of whether the living gymnosperms form a clade. The fossil record of gymnosperms includes many distinctive taxa that do not belong to the four modern groups, including seed-bearing trees that have a somewhat fern-like vegetative morphology (the so-called "seed ferns" or pteridosperms.) When fossil gymnosperms such as Bennettitales, Caytonia and the glossopterids are considered, it is clear that angiosperms are nested within a larger gymnosperm clade, although which group of gymnosperms is their closest relative remains unclear.