Journal Article

Patterns of style polymorphism in five species of the South African genus <i>Nivenia</i> (Iridaceae)

J. M. Sánchez, V. Ferrero, J. Arroyo and L. Navarro

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 106, issue 2, pages 321-331
Published in print August 2010 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online June 2010 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Patterns of style polymorphism in five species of the South African genus Nivenia (Iridaceae)

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


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Background and Aims

Heterostylous plants have been characterized by the presence of two or three discrete morphs that differ in their sex organ position within populations. This polymorphism is widely distributed among the angiosperms, but detailed studies are limited to few taxonomic groups. Although a small representation, evolutionary meaningful variations of the heterostylous syndrome have been reported when precise measurements of the sexual whorls were taken. A thorough exploration of groups where heterostyly has been reported should offer new opportunities to further testing the evolutionary hypotheses explaining heterostyly. Here, the traits defining heterostyly were explored in half of the species in Nivenia, the only genus of Iridiaceae where heterostyly has been reported.


Detailed morphometric analysis of the flower sexual whorls and some traits considered as ancillary are supplied to determine for each population (a) the kind of stylar polymorphism, (b) the morph ratio and (c) the degree of reciprocity between sexual whorls. Also the rates of assortative (within morph) versus disassortative (between morphs) pollen transfer were estimated by analysing pollen loads on stigmas. The association between floral phenotypic integration and the reciprocity between sexual whorls was estimated; both characteristics have been quoted as dependent on the accuracy of the fit between pollinators and flowers and therefore related to the efficiency of pollen transfer.

Key Results

Different types of polymorphism, differing in their degree of reciprocity, were found in Nivenia. Effective disassortative mating appears to be common, since (a) all dimorphic populations show equal morph-ratios (isoplethy), and (b) the pollen placed on the stigmas of each morph is likely to be coming from the other (complementary) morph. The most reciprocal populations of the heterostylous species have also the highest values of phenotypical integration.


Stigma height dimorphism, as opposed to distyly, is proven for the first time in Nivenia. The presence of different types of polymorphism within the genus is consistent with hypotheses of the evolution of heterostyly. The role of the pollinators as the leading force of the transition seems to be apparent, since floral integration is related to reciprocity.

Keywords: Heterostyly; Nivenia; phenotypic integration; reciprocal herkogamy; reciprocity degree; disassortative mating

Journal Article.  7768 words.  Illustrated.

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

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