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Keywords:

  • anatomy ;
  • androecium ;
  • asterids ;
  • gynoecium ;
  • histology ;
  • integument ;
  • morphology ;
  • ovules ;
  • perianth

Based on molecular phylogenetic studies, Balsaminaceae, Tetrameristaceae (including Pellicieraceae) and Marcgraviaceae form the strongly supported first branching clade in the asterid order Ericales. Marcgraviaceae and Tetrameristaceae were proposed to be closely related in pre-molecular studies, but the systematic position of Balsaminaceae has been controversial for some time and a relationship with the other two families was never suggested in pre-molecular/pre-cladistic times. However, interfamilial relationships in the clade are still unclear because of conflicting phylogenetic hypotheses from molecular analyses. In order to assess the validity of these molecular hypotheses from a morphological point of view, the floral morphology, anatomy and histology of Balsaminaceae, Tetrameristaceae and Marcgraviaceae are comparatively studied in detail. In addition, earlier literature is reviewed. The monophyly of the balsaminoid clade is strongly supported by floral structure, and a series of potential floral synapomorphies is identified for the clade. Prominent features shared by the three families include broad and dorsiventrally flattened filaments, thread-like structures lining the stomia of dehisced anthers, secretory inner morphological surfaces of the gynoecium, ovules intermediate between uni- and bitegmic, incompletely tenuinucellar ovules, fruits with persistent style and stigma, seeds lacking endosperm and several anatomical/histological traits. The families are also distinctive because the bracts and/or sepals are petaloid and nectariferous. Further, the floral structure supports a sister group relationship between Balsaminaceae and Tetrameristaceae rather than any of the other possible interfamilial relationships. These two families share a caducous calyx, post-genital fusion/coherence of filaments and ovary surface, latrorse anther dehiscence, commissural carpel lobes and ovules with a thickened funiculus and a constricted chalazal region. The occurrence of these features in Ericales is discussed. Future structural studies in other ericalean lineages and additional molecular studies are needed to further test these features with respect to their systematic value for the balsaminoid clade. Some may turn out to be true synapomorphies, whereas others may be recognized as plesiomorphies, as they may be more widely spread in Ericales than currently thought. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 173, 325–386.