• Caricaceae;
  • dioecy;
  • Jacaratia mexicana;
  • Mexico;
  • sexual variation


The Caricaceae is a small family of tropical trees and herbs in which most species are dioecious. In the present study, we extend our previous work on dioecy in the Caricaceae, characterising the morphological variation in sexual expression in flowers of the dioecious tree Jacaratia mexicana. We found that, in J. mexicana, female plants produce only pistillate flowers, while male plants are sexually variable and can bear three different types of flowers: staminate, pistillate and perfect. To characterise the distinct types of flowers, we measured 26 morphological variables. Our results indicate that: (i) pistillate flowers from male trees carry healthy-looking ovules and are morphologically similar, although smaller than, pistillate flowers on female plants; (ii) staminate flowers have a rudimentary, non-functional pistil and are the only flowers capable of producing nectar; and (iii) perfect flowers produce healthy-looking ovules and pollen, but have smaller ovaries than pistillate flowers and fewer anthers than staminate flowers, and do not produce nectar. The restriction of sexual variation to male trees is consistent with the evolutionary path of dioecy from hermaphrodite ancestors through the initial invasion of male-sterile plants and a subsequent gradual reduction in female fertility in cosexual individuals (gynodioecy pathway), but further work is needed to confirm this hypothesis.