As the oldest extant lineages of land plants, bryophytes provide a living laboratory in which to evaluate morphological adaptations associated with early land existence. In this paper we examine reproductive and structural innovations in the gametophyte and sporophyte generations of hornworts, liverworts, mosses and basal pteridophytes. Reproductive features relating to spermatogenesis and the architecture of motile male gametes are overviewed and evaluated from an evolutionary perspective. Phylogenetic analyses of a data set derived from spermatogenesis and one derived from comprehensive morphogenetic data are compared with a molecular analysis of nuclear and mitochondrial small subunit rDNA sequences. Although relatively small because of a reliance on water for sexual reproduction, gametophytes of bryophytes are the most elaborate of those produced by any land plant. Phenotypic variability in gametophytic habit ranges from leafy to thalloid forms with the greatest diversity exhibited by hepatics. Appendages, including leaves, slime papillae and hairs, predominate in liverworts and mosses, while hornwort gametophytes are strictly thalloid with no organized external structures. Internalization of reproductive and vegetative structures within mucilage-filled spaces is an adaptive strategy exhibited by hornworts. The formative stages of gametangial development are similar in the three bryophyte groups, with the exception that in mosses apical growth is intercalated into early organogenesis, a feature echoed in moss sporophyte ontogeny. A monosporangiate, unbranched sporophyte typifies bryophytes, but developmental and structural innovations suggest the three bryophyte groups diverged prior to elaboration of this generation. Sporophyte morphogenesis in hornworts involves non-synchronized sporogenesis and the continued elongation of the single sporangium, features unique among archegoniates. In hepatics, elongation of the sporophyte seta and archegoniophore is rapid and requires instantaneous wall expandability and hydrostatic support. Unicellular, spiralled elaters and capsule dehiscence through the formation of four regular valves are autapomorphies of liverworts. Sporophytic sophistications in the moss clade include conducting tissue, stomata, an assimilative layer and an elaborate peristome for extended spore dispersal. Characters such as stomata and conducting cells that are shared among sporophvtes of mosses, hornworts and pteridophytes are interpreted as parallelisms and not homologies. Our phylogenetic analysis of three different data sets is the most comprehensive to date and points to a single phylogenetic solution for the evolution of basal embryophytes. Hornworts are supported as the earliest divergent embryophyte clade with a moss/liverwort clade sister to tracheophytes. Among pteridophytes, lycophytes are monophyletic and an assemblage containing ferns, Equisetum and psilophytes is sister to seed plants. Congruence between morphological and molecular hypotheses indicates that these data sets are tracking the same phylogenetic signal and reinforces our phylogenetic conclusions. It appears that total evidence approaches are valuable in resolving ancient radiations such as those characterizing the evolution of early embryophytes. More information on land plant phylogeny can be found at: http: //www.science.siu.edu/ landplants/index.html.