The family Nymphaeaceae includes most of the diversity among the ANA‐grade angiosperms. Among the species of this family, floral structures and pollination strategies are quite varied. The genus Victoria, as well as subgenera Lotos and Hydrocallis in Nymphaea, presents night‐blooming, scented flowers pollinated by scarab beetles. Such similar pollination strategies have led to macromorphological similarities among the flowers of these species, which could be interpreted as homologies or convergences based on different phylogenetic hypotheses about the relationships of these groups.
We employed SEM of floral epidermis for seven species of the Nymphaeaceae with contrasting pollination biology to identify the main characters of the floral organs and the potential homologous nature of the structures involved in pollinator attraction. Moreover, we used TEM to observe ultrastructure of papillate‐conical epidermis in the stamen of Victoria cruziana. We then tested the phylogenetic or ecological distribution of these traits using both consensus network approaches and ancestral state reconstruction on fixed phylogenies.
Our results show that the night‐blooming flowers present different specializations in their epidermis, with Victoria cruziana presenting the most elaborate floral anatomy. We also identify for the first time the presence of conical‐papillate cells in the order Nymphaeales. The epidermal characters tend to reflect phylogenetic relationships more than convergence due to pollinator selection.
These results point to an independent and parallel evolution of scarab pollination in Nymphaeaceae, and show the promise of floral anatomy as a phylogenetic marker. Moreover, they indicate a degree of sophistication in the anatomical basis of cantharophilous flowers in the Nymphaeales that diverges from the most simplistic views of floral evolution in the angiosperms.
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