Background and Aims
Within Chenopodioideae, Atripliceae have been distinguished by two bracteoles enveloping the female flowers/fruits, whereas in other tribes flowers are described as ebracteolate with persistent perianth. Molecular phylogenetic hypotheses suggest ‘bracteoles’ to be homoplastic. The origin of the bracteoles was explained by successive inflorescence reductions. Flower reduction was used to explain sex determination. Therefore, floral ontogeny was studied to evaluate the nature of the bracteoles and sex determination in Atripliceae.
Inflorescences of species of Atriplex, Chenopodium, Dysphania and Spinacia oleracea were investigated using light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy.
The main axis of the inflorescence is indeterminate with elementary dichasia as lateral units. Flowers develop centripetally, with first the formation of a perianth primordium either from a ring primordium or from five individual tepal primordia fusing post-genitally. Subsequently, five stamen primordia originate, followed by the formation of an annular ovary primordium surrounding a central single ovule. Flowers are either initially hermaphroditic remaining bisexual and/or becoming functionally unisexual at later stages, or initially unisexual. In the studied species of Atriplex, female flowers are strictly female, except in A. hortensis. In Spinacia, female and male flowers are unisexual at all developmental stages. Female flowers of Atriplex and Spinacia are protected by two accrescent fused tepal lobes, whereas the other perianth members are absent.
In Atriplex and Spinacia modified structures around female flowers are not bracteoles, but two opposite accrescent tepal lobes, parts of a perianth persistent on the fruit. Flowers can achieve sexuality through many different combinations; they are initially hermaphroditic, subsequently developing into bisexual or functionally unisexual flowers, with the exception of Spinacia and strictly female flowers in Atriplex, which are unisexual from the earliest developmental stages. There may be a relationship between the formation of an annular perianth primordium and flexibility in floral sex determination.