Background and Aims
Bilabiate flowers have evolved in many lineages of the angiosperms, thus representing a convincing example of parallel evolution. Similar to keel blossoms, they have obviously evolved in order to protect pollen against pollen-collecting bees. Although many examples are known, a comprehensive survey on floral diversity and functional constraints of bilabiate flowers is lacking. Here, the concept is widened and described as a general pattern.
The present paper is a conceptional review including personal observations of the authors. To form a survey on the diversity of bilabiate blossoms, a search was made for examples across the angiosperms and these were combined with personal observations collected during the last 25 years, coupled with knowledge from the literature. New functional terms are introduced that are independent of morphological and taxonomic associations.
Bilabiate constructions occur in at least 38 angiosperm families. They are characterized by dorsiventral organization and dorsal pollen transfer. They are most often realised on the level of a single flower, but may also be present in an inflorescence or as part of a so-called ‘walk-around flower’. Interestingly, in functional terms all nototribic blossoms represent bilabiate constructions. The great majority of specialized bee-flowers can thus be included under bilabiate and keel blossoms. The syndrome introduced here, however, also paves the way for the inclusion of larger animals such as birds and bats. The most important evolutionary trends appear to be in the saving of pollen and the precision of its transfer. With special reference to the Lamiales, selected examples of bilabiate flowers are presented and their functional significance is discussed.
Bilabiate blossoms protect their pollen against pollen-collecting bees and at the same time render their pollination more precisely. The huge diversity of realised forms indicate the high selection pressure towards the bilabiate syndrome. As bees are very inventive, however, bilabiate constructions will not represent the ultimate response to bees.