Background and Aims. In the Lamiales, indeterminate thyrses (made up of axillary cymes) represent a significant inflorescence type. However, it has been largely overlooked that there occur two types of cymes: (1) ordinary cymes, and (2) ‘pair-flowered cymes’ (PFCs), with a flower pair (terminal and front flower) topping each cyme unit. PFCs are unique to the Lamiales and their distribution, origin and phylogeny are not well understood.
Methods. The Lamiales are screened as to the occurrence of PFCs, ordinary cymes and single flowers (constituting racemic inflorescences).
Key Results. PFCs are shown to exhibit a considerable morphological and developmental diversity and are documented to occur in four neighbouring taxa of Lamiales: Calceolariaceae, Sanango, Gesneriaceae and Plantaginaceae. They are omnipresent in the Calceolariaceae and almost so in the Gesneriaceae. In the Plantaginaceae, PFCs are restricted to the small sister tribes Russelieae and Cheloneae (while the large remainder has single flowers in the leaf/bract axils; ordinary cymes do not occur). Regarding the origin of PFCs, the inflorescences of the genus Peltanthera (unplaced as to family; sister to Calceolariaceae, Sanango and Gesneriaceae in most molecular phylogenies) support the idea that PFCs have originated from paniculate systems, with the front-flowers representing remnant flowers.
Conclusions. From the exclusive occurrence of PFCs in the Lamiales and the proximity of the respective taxa in molecular phylogenies it may be expected that PFCs have originated once, representing a synapomorphy for this group of taxa and fading out within the Plantaginaceae. However, molecular evidence is ambiguous. Depending on the position of Peltanthera (depending in turn on the kind and number of genes and taxa analysed) a single, a double (the most probable scenario) or a triple origin appears conceivable.