Journal Article

Molecular phylogenetics of Ruscaceae <i>sensu lato</i> and related families (Asparagales) based on plastid and nuclear DNA sequences

Joo-Hwan Kim, Dong-Kap Kim, Felix Forest, Michael F. Fay and Mark W. Chase

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 106, issue 5, pages 775-790
Published in print November 2010 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online October 2010 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Molecular phylogenetics of Ruscaceae sensu lato and related families (Asparagales) based on plastid and nuclear DNA sequences

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


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Previous phylogenetics studies of Asparagales, although extensive and generally well supported, have left several sets of taxa unclearly placed and have not addressed all relationships within certain clades thoroughly (some clades were relatively sparsely sampled). One of the most important of these is sampling within and placement of Nolinoideae (Ruscaceae s.l.) of Asparagaceae sensu Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) III, which subfamily includes taxa previously referred to Convallariaceae, Dracaenaaceae, Eriospermaceae, Nolinaceae and Ruscaceae.


A phylogenetic analysis of a combined data set for 126 taxa of Ruscaceae s.l. and related groups in Asparagales based on three nuclear and plastid DNA coding genes, 18S rDNA (1796 bp), rbcL (1338 bp) and matK (1668 bp), representing a total of approx. 4·8 kb is presented. Parsimony and Bayesian inference analyses were conducted to elucidate relationships of Ruscaceae s.l. and related groups, and parsimony bootstrap analysis was performed to assess support of clades.

Key Results

The combination of the three genes results in the most highly resolved and strongly supported topology yet obtained for Asparagales including Ruscaceae s.l. Asparagales relationships are nearly congruent with previous combined gene analyses, which were reflected in the APG III classification. Parsimony and Bayesian analyses yield identical relationships except for some slight variation among the core asparagoid families, which nevertheless form a strongly supported group in both types of analyses. In core asparagoids, five major clades are identified: (1) Alliaceae s.l. (sensu APG III, Amarylidaceae–Agapanthaceae–Alliaceae); (2) Asparagaceae–Laxmanniaceae–Ruscaceae s.l.; (3) Themidaceae; (4) Hyacinthaceae; (5) Anemarrhenaceae–Behniaceae–Herreriaceae–Agavaceae (clades 2–5 collectively Asparagaceae s.l. sensu APG III). The position of Aphyllanthes is labile, but it is sister to Themidaceae in the combined maximum-parsimony tree and sister to Anemarrhenaceae in the Bayesian analysis. The highly supported clade of Xanthorrhoeaceae s.l. (sensu APG III, including Asphodelaceae and Hemerocallidaceae) is sister to the core asparagoids. Ruscaceae s.l. are a well-supported group. Asparagaceae s.s. are sister to Ruscaceae s.l., even though the clade of the two families is weakly supported; Laxmanniaceae are strongly supported as sister to Ruscaceae s.l. and Asparagaceae. Ruscaceae s.l. include six principal clades that often reflect previously named groups: (1) tribe Polygonateae (excluding Disporopsis); (2) tribe Ophiopogoneae; (3) tribe Convallarieae (excluding Theropogon); (4) Ruscaceae s.s. + Dracaenaceae + Theropogon + Disporopsis + Comospermum; (5) Nolinaceae, (6) Eriospermum.


The analyses here were largely conducted with new data collected for the same loci as in previous studies, but in this case from different species/DNA accessions and greater sampling in many cases than in previously published analyses; nonetheless, the results largely mirror those of previously conducted studies. This demonstrates the robustness of these results and answers questions often raised about reproducibility of DNA results, given the often sparse sampling of taxa in some studies, particularly the earliest ones. The results also provide a clear set of patterns on which to base a new classification of the subfamilies of Asparagaceae s.l., particularly Ruscaceae s.l. (= Nolinoideae of Asparagaceae s.l.), and examine other putatively important characters of Asparagales.

Keywords: Aphyllanthes; Asparagaceae; Convallariaceae; Dracaenaceae; Eriospermum; monocot phylogenetics; Nolinaceae; Nolinoideae

Journal Article.  9572 words.  Illustrated.

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

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