Anisocotyly, the prolonged meristematic growth of one of the two cotyledons, is a distinctive feature of Gesneriaceae subfam. Cyrtandroideae. The larger cotyledon, the macrocotyledon, often grows to resemble a normal foliage leaf, and in some taxa may be the only foliar organ of the plant. This raises a number of questions. Which cotyledon becomes the macrocotyledon? Is this pre-determined in the embryo or differentiated after germination? Which external factors such as gravity and light are involved? The observation that the macrocotyledons of unifoliate Gesneriaceae growing on steep rocks mostly point downwards suggests that gravity is involved, but it is not clear whether it plays an initial determinant role or merely later influences orientation. In order to identify possible controlling factors, several experiments were performed, mostly on material of Chirita lavandulacea and Streptocarpus rexii. All seedlings responded significantly to light, the cotyledon further from the light source becoming the macrocotyledon. Seedlings growing in inclined pots with the light source below the pots mostly developed an upper macrocotyledon. The explanation proposed is that this cotyledon receives more light when the two cotyledons unfold after germination. Later on, apparently due to gravity, Chirita seedlings showed re-orientation with the macrocotyledons ultimately pointing downwards, though in Streptocarpus no such downwards re-orientation was observed. This difference is probably correlated to a difference in hypocotyl structure. Our conclusion is that while light is the initial factor controlling macrocotyledon development, gravity may cause re-orientation in some species.
Factors controlling initiation and orientation of the macrocotyledon in anisocotylous Gesneriaceae
Publication: Edinburgh Journal of Botany
Genera: Chirita, Streptocarpus