• clonal;
  • environmental stress;
  • facultative reproduction;
  • fecundity;
  • plasticity


  • 1
    Salinization is a growing environmental stress in wetland ecosystems world-wide. Several models have been proposed that predict clonal plant responses to stress, including that environmental stress stimulates sexual reproduction.
  • 2
    We conducted a common-garden experiment to investigate the effects of salinity on 10 natural populations of Iris hexagona, a clonal perennial endemic to freshwater and brackish wetlands of the North American Gulf Coast.
  • 3
    Salinity reduced vegetative growth but either increased or had neutral effects on sexual reproduction, consistent with the clonal stress hypothesis. Salinity of 4 µg g−1 more than doubled the number of seeds produced compared with freshwater controls, but flower number and seed mass were unaffected.
  • 4
    Salinity reduced total below-ground mass by nearly 50% compared with controls, with no significant change in rhizome numbers.
  • 5
    Plants from 10 randomly selected I. hexagona populations differed dramatically in growth and reproduction, independent of salinity. Total biomass that accumulated over the 20-month experiment ranged across all treatments from 52 to 892 g, and flower numbers varied from 2.3 to 11.3 per replicate.
  • 6
    Populations did not respond differently to salinity, except with respect to above- : below-ground ratios, thus providing no conclusive evidence for local adaptation to salinity stress.
  • 7
    Our results concur with published models of plant reproductive strategies in variable environments, in that environmental stress stimulated sexual reproduction at the expense of growth. However, these models do not predict the observed sharp decline in seed production at near lethal salinity levels.