• Shoot architecture, including the number and location of branches, is a crucial aspect of plant function, morphological diversification, life history evolution and crop domestication. • Genes controlling shoot architecture are well characterized in, and largely conserved across, model flowering plant species. The role of these genes in the evolution of morphological diversity in natural populations, however, has not been explored. • We identify axillary meristem outgrowth as a primary driver of divergent branch number and life histories in two locally adapted populations of the monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus. • Furthermore, we show that MORE AXILLARY GROWTH (MAX) gene expression strongly correlates with natural variation in branch outgrowth in this species, linking modification of the MAX-dependent pathway to the evolutionary diversification of shoot architecture.
© 2012 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2012 New Phytologist Trust.