Journal Article

Fruit and seed heteromorphism in the cold desert annual ephemeral <i>Diptychocarpus strictus</i> (Brassicaceae) and possible adaptive significance

Juanjuan Lu, Dunyan Tan, Jerry M. Baskin and Carol C. Baskin

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 105, issue 6, pages 999-1014
Published in print June 2010 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online March 2010 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Fruit and seed heteromorphism in the cold desert annual ephemeral Diptychocarpus strictus (Brassicaceae) and possible adaptive significance

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Diptychocarpus strictus is an annual ephemeral in the cold desert of northwest China that produces heteromorphic fruits and seeds. The primary aims of this study were to characterize the morphology and anatomy of fruits and seeds of this species and compare the role of fruit and seed hetermorphism in dispersal and germination.


Shape, size, mass and dispersal of siliques and seeds and the thickness of the mucilage layer on seeds were measured, and the anatomy of siliques and seeds, the role of seed mucilage in water absorption/dehydration, germination and adherence of seeds to soil particles, the role of pericarp of lower siliques in seed dormancy and seed after-ripening and germination phenology were studied using standard procedures.

Key Results

Plants produce dehiscent upper siliques with a thin pericarp containing seeds with large wings and a thick mucilage layer and indehiscent lower siliques with a thick pericarp containing nearly wingless seeds with a thin mucilage layer. The dispersal ability of seeds from the upper siliques was much greater than that of intact lower siliques. Mucilage increased the amount of water absorbed by seeds and decreased the rate of dehydration. Seeds with a thick mucilage layer adhered to soil particles much better than those with a thin mucilage layer or those from which mucilage had been removed. Fresh seeds were physiologically dormant and after-ripened during summer. Non-dormant seeds germinated to high percentages in light and in darkness. Germination of seeds from upper siliques is delayed until spring primarily by drought in summer and autumn, whereas the thick, indehiscent pericarp prevents germination for >1 year of seeds retained in lower siliques.


The life cycle of D. strictus is morphologically and physiologically adapted to the cold desert environment in time and space via a combination of characters associated with fruit and seed heteromorphism.

Keywords: Cold desert annual ephemeral; Diptychocarpus; fruit and seed heteromorphism; non-deep physiological dormancy; seed dispersal; seed germination

Journal Article.  11735 words.  Illustrated.

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

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