Protogyny is supposed to represent the ancestral form of dichogamy in the angiosperms, but is rare in advanced groups such as the Asteridae, in which protandry prevails by far. Here we report on an unusual form of protogyny combined with herkogamy in a Chinese species of Gesneriaceae (Asteridae–Lamiales): Oreocharis acaulis (formerly Opithandra acaulis). This is characterized by a conspicuous protrusion of the style from the flower bud and the stigma becoming receptive before corolla opening (female-only stage; preanthetic protogyny) and both sexes staying functional during anthesis (hermaphroditic stage), with the stigma presented above the anther level (approach herkogamy). The plants studied were found to be self-compatible, but autonomous self-pollination and apomixis were not observed. Successful pollination was found to depend fully on the presence of insect pollinators (Bombus sp.). The visiting frequency was higher in the hermaphroditic stage (in which also more nectar was produced) than in the female-only stage. The out-crossed flower buds opened earlier and had a shorter flowering period than selfed flowers. Similarly, the outcross-pollen germinated earlier and the pollen tube growth was faster than in self-pollen. Anthers, pistil and corolla of O. acaulis obviously form an integrative functional unit in which the elongated style plays a key role both in pollen-dispensing and pollen-deposition. The combination of preanthetic protogyny with herkogamy has probably arisen through selection for promoting out-crossing and prolonging the exposition time of the receptive stigma in order to capture a higher amount of pollen grains. This may be understood as a strategy to cope with scarcity of pollinators in the plants’ habitat.
Floral ecology of Oreocharis acaulis (Gesneriaceae): An exceptional case of “preanthetic” protogyny combined with approach herkogamy
Genera: Opithandra, Oreocharis