Journal of Plant Research

, Volume 131, Issue 3, pp 367–393 | Cite as

Understanding the role of floral development in the evolution of angiosperm flowers: clarifications from a historical and physico-dynamic perspective

  • Louis Ronse De CraeneEmail author
JPR Symposium Floral development –Re-evaluation of its importance–


Flower morphology results from the interaction of an established genetic program, the influence of external forces induced by pollination systems, and physical forces acting before, during and after initiation. Floral ontogeny, as the process of development from a meristem to a fully developed flower, can be approached either from a historical perspective, as a “recapitulation of the phylogeny” mainly explained as a process of genetic mutations through time, or from a physico-dynamic perspective, where time, spatial pressures, and growth processes are determining factors in creating the floral morphospace. The first (historical) perspective clarifies how flower morphology is the result of development over time, where evolutionary changes are only possible using building blocks that are available at a certain stage in the developmental history. Flowers are regulated by genetically determined constraints and development clarifies specific transitions between different floral morphs. These constraints are the result of inherent mutations or are induced by the interaction of flowers with pollinators. The second (physico-dynamic) perspective explains how changes in the physical environment of apical meristems create shifts in ontogeny and this is reflected in the morphospace of flowers. Changes in morphology are mainly induced by shifts in space, caused by the time of initiation (heterochrony), pressure of organs, and alterations of the size of the floral meristem, and these operate independently or in parallel with genetic factors. A number of examples demonstrate this interaction and its importance in the establishment of different floral forms. Both perspectives are complementary and should be considered in the understanding of factors regulating floral development. It is suggested that floral evolution is the result of alternating bursts of physical constraints and genetic stabilization processes following each other in succession. Future research needs to combine these different perspectives in understanding the evolution of floral systems and their diversification.


Floral meristem Genetics Heterochrony Morphospace Organ pressure Size change 



I am grateful to Dr. Akitoshi Iwamoto for inviting me to participate in the symposium entitled “Floral development, re-evaluation of its importance” organized at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Botanical Society of Japan in Okinawa. I thank the Japanese Society for Promotion of Science for funding my travel to Japan. I also thank the editors of JPR for suggesting this special volume for Flo-Re-S. I am grateful to various colleagues including Dr. Akitoshi Iwamoto, Dr. Kester Bull-Hereñu, Prof. R. Classen-Bockhoff, and Dr. Wei Lai for helpful conversations on morphological topics. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is supported by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services Division.


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© The Botanical Society of Japan and Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Royal Botanic Garden EdinburghEdinburghUK

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