Extra-gynoecial pollen-tube growth in apocarpous angiosperms is phylogenetically widespread and probably adaptive


Author for correspondence:
Shuang-Quan Huang
Tel: +86 27 68753553
Email: sqhuang@whu.edu.cn


  • Fusion of floral carpels (syncarpy) in angiosperms is thought to have allowed for significant improvements in offspring quantity and quality in syncarpous species over gymnosperms and apocarpous (free-carpelled) angiosperms. Given the disadvantages of apocarpy, it remains an evolutionary puzzle why many angiosperm lineages with free carpels (apocarpy) have been so successful and why some lineages show reversals to apocarpy.
  • To investigate whether some advantages of syncarpy may accrue in other ways to apocarpous species, we reviewed previous studies of pollen-tube growth in apocarpous species and also documented pollen-tube growth in nine additional apocarpous species in six families.
  • Anatomical studies of a scattering of apocarpous paleodicots, monocots, and eudicots show that, after transiting the style, ‘extra’ pollen tubes exit fully fertilized carpels and grow to other carpels with unfertilized ovules. In many species this occurs via openings in the simple carpels, as we report here for Sagittaria potamogetifolia, Sagittaria pygmaea, Sedum lineare, and Schisandra sphenanthera.
  • The finding that extra-gynoecial pollen-tube growth is widespread in apocarpous species eliminates the possibility of a major fitness cost of apocarpy relative to syncarpy and may help to explain the persistence of, and multiple reversals to, apocarpy in the evolutionary history of angiosperms.