Deceptive Ceropegia pitfall flowers are an outstanding example of synorganized morphological complexity. Floral organs functionally synergise to trap fly-pollinators inside the fused corolla. Successful pollination requires precise positioning of flies headfirst into cavities at the gynostegium. These cavities are formed by the corona, a specialized organ of corolline and/or staminal origin. The interplay of floral organs to achieve pollination is well studied but their evolutionary origin is still unclear. We aimed to obtain more insight in the homology of the corona and therefore investigated floral anatomy, ontogeny, vascularization, and differential MADS-box gene expression in Ceropegia sandersonii using X-ray microtomography, Light and Scanning Electronic Microscopy, and RT-PCR. During 10 defined developmental phases, the corona appears in phase 7 at the base of the stamens and was not found to be vascularized. A floral reference transcriptome was generated and 14 MADS-box gene homologs, representing all major MADS-box gene classes, were identified. B- and C-class gene expression was found in mature coronas. Our results indicate staminal origin of the corona, and we propose a first ABCDE-model for floral organ identity in Ceropegia to lay the foundation for a better understanding of the molecular background of pitfall flower evolution in Apocynaceae.
Keywords: Ceropegia; MADS-box genes; RT-PCR; SEM; micro-CT scanning; transcriptomics; vascularization.