The Science of Nature

, 104:37 | Cite as

Testing the influence of gravity on flower symmetry in five Saxifraga species

Original Paper


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.


Flower symmetry Zygomorphy Actinomorphy Saxifraga Pollination 



We thank Leonie Sermon and Michaela Krohn for acquisition of data and Andreas Fischbach for support in the botanical garden.

Compliance with ethical standards

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

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Suppl. Fig. 1

Experimental setup. Flower pots were attached to a vertical clinostat (left) and a horizontal clinostat (right). The control flowers were placed in front of the two clinostat groups. (GIF 15220 kb)

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High Resolution Image (TIFF 50580 kb)
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Suppl. Fig. 2

Schematic illustration of floral axes. Labelling of floral organs in regard to the three different axes used for analysis of changes in floral symmetry. (GIF 3653 kb)

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High Resolution Image (TIFF 4330 kb)
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Suppl. Fig. 3

Angular determination of carpel position. The lines between the two carpels were divided into three categorize (horizontal, vertical and diagonal) according to their angular position to the gravitational axis. (GIF 1647 kb)

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High Resolution Image (TIFF 2155 kb)
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Suppl. Fig. 4

Phylogeny of Saxifraga according to Soltis et al. (1996). Insets are indicating the colour of petals, floral guides, receptacle/nectary, filaments, and pollen as perceived by humans. (GIF 223 kb)

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High Resolution Image (TIFF 540 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Sensory EcologyHeinrich-Heine-University DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany

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