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Ann Bot. 2009 May;103(7):1049-64. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcp048. Epub 2009 Mar 11.

Woodiness within the Spermacoceae-Knoxieae alliance (Rubiaceae): retention of the basal woody condition in Rubiaceae or recent innovation?

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  • 1Laboratory of Plant Systematics, Institute of Botany and Microbiology, K.U. Leuven, Kasteelpark Arenberg 31, Leuven, Belgium.

Abstract

BACKGROUND AND AIMS:

The tribe Spermacoceae is essentially a herbaceous Rubiaceae lineage, except for some species that can be described as 'woody' herbs, small shrubs to treelets, or lianas. Its sister tribe Knoxieae contains a large number of herbaceous taxa, but the number of woody taxa is higher compared to Spermacoceae. The occurrence of herbaceous and woody species within the same group raises the question whether the woody taxa are derived from herbaceous taxa (i.e. secondary woodiness), or whether woodiness represents the ancestral state (i.e. primary woodiness). Microscopic observations of wood anatomy are combined with an independent molecular phylogeny to answer this question.

METHODS:

Observations of wood anatomy of 21 woody Spermacoceae and eight woody Knoxieae species, most of them included in a multi-gene molecular phylogeny, are carried out using light microscopy.

KEY RESULTS:

Observations of wood anatomy in Spermacoceae support the molecular hypothesis that all the woody species examined are secondary derived. Well-known wood anatomical characters that demonstrate this shift from the herbaceous to the woody habit are the typically flat or decreasing length vs. age curves for vessel elements, the abundance of square and upright ray cells, or even the (near-) absence of rays. These so-called paedomorphic wood features are also present in the Knoxieae genera Otiophora, Otomeria, Pentas, Pentanisia and Phyllopentas. However, the wood structure of the other Knoxieae genera observed (Carphalea, Dirichletia and Triainolepis) is typical of primarily woody taxa.

CONCLUSIONS:

In Spermacoceae, secondary woodiness has evolved numerous times in strikingly different habitats. In Knoxieae, there is a general trend from primary woodiness towards herbaceousness and back to (secondary) woodiness.

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