In flowering plants, the developmental and genetic basis for the establishment of an embryo-nourishing tissue differs from all other lineages of seed plants. Among extant nonflowering seed plants (conifers, cycads, Ginkgo, Gnetales), a maternally derived haploid tissue (female gametophyte) is responsible for the acquisition of nutrients from the maternal diploid plant, and the ultimate provisioning of the embryo. In flowering plants, a second fertilization event, contemporaneous with the fusion of sperm and egg to yield a zygote, initiates a genetically biparental and typically triploid embryo-nourishing tissue called endosperm. For over a century, triploid biparental endosperm has been viewed as the ancestral condition in extant flowering plants. Here we report diploid biparental endosperm in Nuphar polysepalum, a basal angiosperm. We show that diploid endosperms are common among early angiosperm lineages and may represent the ancestral condition among flowering plants. If diploid endosperm is plesiomorphic, the triploid endosperms of the vast majority of flowering plants must have evolved from a diploid condition through the developmental modification of the unique fertilization process that initiates endosperm.