Testing the Influence of Gravity on Flower Symmetry in Five Saxifraga Species

Naturwissenschaften. 2017 Apr;104(3-4):37. doi: 10.1007/s00114-017-1458-4. Epub 2017 Mar 30.


Flower symmetry is considered a species-specific trait and is categorized in asymmetry, actinomorphic symmetry, bisymmetry and zygomorphic symmetry. Here we report on the intra-individual variation of flower symmetry in the genus Saxifraga and the influence of light, gravity and intrinsic factors on the development of flower symmetry. We tested five species-Saxifraga cuneifolia, Saxifraga imparilis, Saxifraga rotundifolia, Saxifraga stolonifera and Saxifraga umbrosa-concerning six flower parameters-angles between petals, petal length, petal pigmentation, angular position of carpels, movement of stamens and (only for S. imparilis and S. stolonifera) the length of the two lower elongated petals in regard to their position towards the stem. Specimens of all species were tested on a vertical clinostat as a gravity compensator, on a horizontal clinostat as a light incidence compensator and on a stationary control. The results show that the angle of incident light has no apparent impact on flower symmetry, whereas gravity affects the angular position of petals in S. cuneifolia and S. umbrosa and the petal colouration in S. rotundifolia. In S. cuneifolia and S. umbrosa, the absence of directional gravity resulted in the development of actinomorphic flowers, whereas the corresponding control flowers were zygomorphic. The development of flowers in S. rotundifolia was not altered by this treatment. The length of the two elongated petals in S. stolonifera and S. imparilis was not affected by gravity, but rather was determined by position of the flower within the inflorescence and resulted in asymmetrical flowers.

Keywords: Actinomorphy; Flower symmetry; Pollination; Saxifraga; Zygomorphy.

MeSH terms

  • Flowers / anatomy & histology*
  • Gravitation*
  • Saxifragaceae / anatomy & histology*
  • Saxifragaceae / physiology*
  • Species Specificity