Lignin, one of the most abundant biopolymers on Earth, derives from the plant phenolic metabolism. It appeared upon terrestrialization and is thought critical for plant colonization of land. Early diverging land plants do not form lignin, but already have elements of its biosynthetic machinery. Here we delete in a moss the P450 oxygenase that defines the entry point in angiosperm lignin metabolism, and find that its pre-lignin pathway is essential for development.