The genus Selaginella resides in an early branch of the land plant lineage that possesses a vasculature and roots. The majority of the Selaginella root system is shoot borne and emerges through a distinctive structure known as the rhizophore, the organ identity of which has been a long‐debated question.
The rhizophore of Selaginella moellendorffii – a model for the lycophytes – shows plasticity to develop into a root or shoot up until 8 d after angle meristem emergence, after which it is committed to root fate. We subsequently use morphology and plasticity to define the stage of rhizophore identity.
Transcriptomic analysis of the rhizophore during its plastic stage reveals that, despite some resemblance to the root meristem, rhizophore gene expression patterns are largely distinct from both shoot and root meristems.
Based on this transcriptomic analysis and on historical anatomical work, we conclude that the rhizophore is a distinct organ with unique features.
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