Journal Article

Molecular phylogenetics and morphological reappraisal of the <i>Platanthera</i> clade (Orchidaceae: Orchidinae) prompts expansion of the generic limits of <i>Galearis</i> and <i>Platanthera</i>

Richard M. Bateman, Karen E. James, Yi-Bo Luo, Robert K. Lauri, Timothy Fulcher, Phillip J. Cribb and Mark W. Chase

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 104, issue 3, pages 431-445
Published in print August 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online April 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Molecular phylogenetics and morphological reappraisal of the Platanthera clade (Orchidaceae: Orchidinae) prompts expansion of the generic limits of Galearis and Platanthera

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  • Ecology and Conservation
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Background and Aims

The Platanthera clade dominates the North American orchid flora and is well represented in eastern Asia. It has also generated some classic studies of speciation in Platanthera sections Platanthera and Limnorchis. However, it has proved rich in taxonomic controversy and near-monotypic genera. The clade is reviewed via a new molecular phylogenetic analysis and those results are combined with brief reconsideration of morphology in the group, aiming to rationalize the species into a smaller number of larger monophyletic genera and sections.


Nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences were obtained from 86 accessions of 35 named taxa, supplemented from GenBank with five accessions encompassing a further two named taxa.

Key Results

Using Pseudorchis as outgroup, and scoring indels, the data matrix generated 30 most-parsimonious trees that differed in the placement of two major groups plus two closely related species. Several other internal nodes also attracted only indifferent statistical support. Nonetheless, by combining implicit assessment of morphological divergence with explicit assessment of molecular divergence (when available), nine former genera can be rationalized into four revised genera by sinking the monotypic Amerorchis, together with Aceratorchis and Chondradenia (neither yet sequenced), into Galearis, and by amalgamating Piperia, Diphylax and the monotypic Tsaiorchis into the former Platanthera section Platanthera. After further species sampling, this section will require sub-division into at least three sections. The present nomenclatural adjustments prompt five new combinations.


Resolution of major groups should facilitate future species-level research on the Platanthera clade. Recent evidence suggests that ITS sequence divergence characterizes most species other than the P. bifolia group. The floral differences that distinguished Piperia, Diphylax and Tsaiorchis from Platanthera, and Aceratorchis and Chondradenia from Galearis, reflect various forms of heterochrony (notably paedomorphosis); this affected both the perianth and the gynostemium, and may have proved adaptive in montane habitats. Floral reduction was combined with lateral expansion of the root tubers in Piperia and Diphylax (including Tsaiorchis), whereas root tubers were minimized in the putative (but currently poorly supported) NeolindleyaGalearis clade. Allopolyploidy and/or autogamy strongly influenced speciation in Platanthera section Limnorchis and perhaps also Neolindleya. Reproductive biology remains an important driver of evolution in the clade, though plant–pollinator specificity and distinctness of the species boundaries have often been exaggerated.

Keywords: Aceratorchis; Amerorchis; Chondradenia; Diphylax; Galearis; generic delimitation; internal transcribed spacer; Neolindleya; orchid; Piperia; phylogeny; Platanthera; Pseudorchis; speciation; Tsaiorchis

Journal Article.  11588 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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