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Am J Bot. 2005 Aug;92(8):1234-55. doi: 10.3732/ajb.92.8.1234.

Comparative infructescence morphology in Liquidambar (Altingiaceae) and its evolutionary significance.

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  • 1Department of Botany, The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA;


The sweet gum genus Liquidambar (Altingiaceae) has two species in eastern Asia, one in eastern North America, and one in western Asia. Mature infructescences are studied to provide anatomical, morphological, and micromorphological details, some of which are newly recognized. Homology is suggested between extrafloral spinose processes of L. formosana and L. acalycina, braid-like ornamentation of L. styraciflua, and broad intercarpellate areas of L. orientalis. Morphology, position, number, and the presence of similar structures in the closely related Hamamelidaceae s.s. support their derivation from sterile flowers. Morphological cladistic analysis using 43 characters supports the monophyly of Liquidambar with Altingia as its sister. The matK analysis contrastingly places Altingia sister to the L. acalycina-L. formosana clade, rendering Liquidambar paraphyletic. Discordance between morphological and matK data sets may result from both different rates of morphological evolution and convergence. Several similarities between Altingia and L. acalycina are symplesiomorphic in the morphological cladistic analysis. Microaltingia apocarpela, from the Cretaceous of eastern North America, documents the earliest known fossil divergence within Altingiaceae. The Miocene Liquidambar changii of western North America is sister to a clade of extant Liquidambar species. Consideration of this fossil evidence reveals complex intercontinental biogeographic disjunctions in Altingiaceae.

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