• Saxifraga oppositifolia;
  • arctic-alpine plant species;
  • floral development;
  • leaf turnover;
  • flowering phenology;
  • morphogenesis;
  • photoperiod;
  • flower preformation;
  • sexual reproduction

Abstract: Morphogenesis of floral structures, dynamics of reproductive development from floral initiation until fruit maturation, and leaf turnover in vegetative short-stem shoots of Saxifraga oppositifolia were studied in three consecutive years at an alpine site (2300 m) and at an early- and late-thawing subnival site (2650 m) in the Austrian Alps. Marked differences in the timing and progression of reproductive and vegetative development occurred: individuals of the alpine population required a four-month growing season to complete reproductive development and initiate new flower buds, whereas later thawing individuals from the subnival sites attained the same structural and functional state within only two and a half months. Reproductive and vegetative development were not strictly correlated because timing of flowering, seed development, and shoot growth depended mainly on the date of snowmelt, whereas the initiation of flower primordia was evidently controlled by photoperiod. Floral induction occurred during June and July, from which a critical day length for primary floral induction of about 15 h could be inferred. Preformed flower buds overwinter in a pre-meiotic state and meiosis starts immediately after snowmelt in spring. Vegetative short-stem shoots performed a full leaf turnover within a growing season: 16 (± 0.8 SE) new leaves per shoot developed in alpine and early-thawing subnival individuals and 12 (± 1.2 SE) leaves in late-thawing subnival individuals. New leaf primordia emerged continuously from snowmelt until late autumn, even when plants were temporarily covered with snow. Differences in the developmental dynamics between the alpine and subnival population were independent of site temperatures, and are probably the result of ecotypic adaptation to differences in growing season length.