Surprising absence of association between flower surface microstructure and pollination system

Kraaij, M. & van der Kooi, C. J., 11-Nov-2019, In : Plant Biology.

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The epidermal cells of flowers come in different shapes and have different functions, but how they evolved remains largely unknown. Floral micro-texture can provide tactile cues to insects, and increases in surface roughness by means of conical (papillose) epidermal cells may facilitate flower handling by landing insect pollinators. Whether flower microstructure correlates with pollination mechanism remains unknown. Here, we investigate the floral epidermal microstructure in 29 (congeneric) species-pairs with contrasting pollination mechanisms. We test whether flowers pollinated by bees or flies feature more structured, rougher surfaces than flowers pollinated by non-landing moths or birds and flowers that self-pollinate. In contrast with earlier studies, we find no correlation between epidermal microstructure and pollination mechanism. The shape, cell height and roughness of floral epidermal cells varies among species, but is not correlated with pollinators at large. Intriguingly however, we find that the upper (adaxial) flower surface that surrounds the reproductive organs and often constitutes the floral display is markedly more structured than the lower (abaxial) surface. We thus conclude that conical epidermal cells probably play another role in plant reproduction, such as increasing hydrophobicity or enhancing the visual signal.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant Biology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11-Nov-2019

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