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Am J Bot. 1998 Dec;85(12):1672-9.

Cost of reproduction in the pink lady's slipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule, Orchidaceae): an eleven-year experimental study of three populations.

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  • 1Biology Department, Boston University, 5 Cummington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02215.


An 11-yr experimental study of the cost of reproduction in three wild populations of the perennial orchid Cypripedium acaule contrasted experimental plants that were repeatedly hand-pollinated and often made fruits with control plants that were not hand-pollinated and only rarely made fruits. Repeated flowering without subsequent fruit production resulted in no detectable reduction in either plant size or probability of flowering in subsequent years. A cost of fruit production was evident in experimental plants in all three populations in terms of a reduced probability of flowering and smaller leaf area in subsequent years, but was not evident in terms of mortality rate. Experimental effects of fruit production reached maximum values at 3-7 yr, depending on the population. The probability of remaining dormant below ground in a given year was strongly dependent on plant size in the previous year. Furthermore, the length of the dormancy period (one to several years) was a significant and inverse function of plant size just prior to dormancy. Sample sizes and the consequent ability to detect experimental effects declined over time as more plants died or stopped flowering. Four to seven years appears to be an optimal duration for studies of the cost of reproduction in perennial herbs similar to this species. Studies lasting less than 4 yr may be too brief to reveal experimental effects, whereas those lasting more than 7 yr may fail to reveal new insights.

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