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Keywords:

  • insect pollination ;
  • nectar composition ;
  • nectary structure ;
  • nectary ultrastructure;
  • reproductive biology

Floral nectary structure and nectar sugar composition were investigated in relation to other floral traits and flower visitors in contrasting species of Nyctaginaceae from southern South America, representing four tribes (Bougainvilleeae, Colignonieae, Nyctagineae, Pisoneae). Our comparative data will aid in the understanding of plant–pollinator interactions and in the development of hypotheses on the origin of floral and reproductive characters in this family. The nectaries are located on the inner side of the staminal tube. The nectariferous tissue is composed of an epidermis and three to ten layers of secretory parenchymal cells, supplied indirectly by the filament vascular bundles. Stomata appear to be associated with nectar secretion. For the first time in Nyctaginaceae, nectary ultrastructure is described in Boerhavia diffusa var. leiocarpa. Nectary parenchyma cells are densely cytoplasmic and contain numerous starch grains. Plasmodesmata connect the nectariferous cells. Flowers of Nyctaginaceae secrete a small volume of nectar of variable concentration (10–47%). Nectar is dominated by hexoses, but Mirabilis jalapa showed a balanced proportion of sucrose and hexoses. Hymenoptera are the most common visitors for most species; nocturnal Lepidoptera are the most common visitors for M. jalapa and Bougainvillea stipitata. We found relatively low variation in the nectary characteristics of Nyctaginaceae compared with broad variation in flower structure, shape, colour and nectar traits. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London