Development and function of the elaiosome in Knautia (Dipsacaceae).

Veronika Mayer, Erika Svoma

The fruits of the genus Knautia differ from those of all other Dipsacaceae by the possession of a white, +- hemispherical basal appendage (elaiosome). In a series of field experiments Sernander (1906) demonstrated that, due to this elaiosome, the fruits of Knautia are dispersed by ants. Sernander (1906) assumed that the elaiosome is built from fused bracts (forming the epicalyx) whereas Besinsky (1963) interpreted it al part of the perianth.

In the present study the elaiosome development was investigated in four species of all three subgenera of Knautia: subg. Trichera (K. drymeia, K. dipsacifolia), subg. tricheranthes (K. integrifolia) and subg. Knautia (K. orientalis). A comparison with early stages of the fruit development in other Dipsacaceae (e.g., Lomelosia graminifolia) indicates that the elaiosome is of epicalyx origin. In all species of Knautia the development of the elaiosome begins prior to anthesis and independently of fertilization. The growth of the elaiosome tissue in K. orientalis is mainly caused by periclinal cell divisions in the subepidermal layers of the epicalyx base. In K. dipsacifolia and K. drymeia a meristem around the base of the central bundle, which supplies epicalyx and flower, becomes active and develops cells in cascade-like rows. The elaiosome cells of ripe fruits are filled with numerous oil droplets. Moreover the central bundle increases by the formation of additional phloem cells.

In addition, other important morphological adaptations to ant dispersal are demonstrated: the hair-cover of the fruit and strongly lignified horizontal vascular bundles between elaiosome and seed prevent the seed from being eaten; a lignified cramp anchors the elaiosome to the fruit; and thickened and strongly cutinized walls of the epidermis protect the elaiosome during dispersal. In regard to germination, a correlation between the removal of the elaiosome and germination speed and rate was found; fruits with dissected elaiosomes germinate faster and with a higher germination rate than fruits with elaiosomes.

Plant Biology
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106008 Botany
Portal url