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Am J Bot. 2012 Jan;99(1):1-13. doi: 10.3732/ajb.1100256. Epub 2011 Dec 27.

Evolutionary origin of the Asteraceae capitulum: Insights from Calyceraceae.

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Instituto de Botánica Darwinion, San Isidro, Buenos Aires, Argentina.



Phylogenies based on molecular data are revealing that generalizations about complex morphological structures often obscure variation and developmental patterns important for understanding the evolution of forms, as is the case for inflorescence morphology within the well-supported MGCA clade (Menyanthaceae + Goodeniaceae + Calyceraceae + Asteraceae). While the basal families share a basic thyrsic/thyrsoid structure of their inflorescences, Asteraceae possesses a capitulum that is widely interpreted as a racemose, condensed inflorescence. Elucidating the poorly known inflorescence structure of Calyceraceae, sister to Asteraceae, should help clarify how the Asteraceae capitulum evolved from thyrsic/thyrsoid inflorescences.


The early development and structure of the inflorescence of eight species (five genera) of Calyceraceae were studied by SEM, and patterns of evolutionary change were interpreted via phylogenetic character mapping.


The basic inflorescence structure of Calyceraceae is a cephalioid (a very condensed botryoid/thyrsoid). Optimization of inflorescence characters on a DNA sequence-derived tree suggests that the Asteraceae capitulum derives from a simple cephalioid through two morphological changes: loss of the terminal flower and suppression of the cymose branching pattern in the peripheral branches.


Widely understood as a condensed raceme, the Asteraceae capitulum is the evolutionary result of a very reduced, condensed thyrsoid. Starting from that point, evolution worked separately only on the racemose developmental control/pattern within Asteraceae and mainly on the cymose developmental control/pattern within Calyceraceae, producing head-like inflorescences in both groups but with very different diversification potential. We also discuss possible remnants of the ancestral cephalioid structure in some Asteraceae.

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