Histological and micro-CT evidence of stigmatic rostellum receptivity promoting auto-pollination in the madagascan orchid Bulbophyllum bicoloratum.

Research paper by Alexander A Gamisch, Yannick M YM Staedler, Jürg J Schönenberger, Gunter A GA Fischer, Hans Peter HP Comes

Indexed on: 24 Aug '13Published on: 24 Aug '13Published in: PloS one


The rostellum, a projecting part of the gynostemium in orchid flowers, separates the anther(s) from the stigma and thus commonly prevents auto-pollination. Nonetheless, as a modified (usually distal) portion of the median stigma lobe, the rostellum has been frequently invoked of having re-gained a stigmatic function in rare cases of orchid auto-pollination. Here it is shown that a newly discovered selfing variant of Madagascan Bulbophyllumbicoloratum has evolved a modified rostellum allowing the penetration of pollen tubes from in situ pollinia.Gynostemium micro-morphology and anatomy of selfing and outcrossing variants of B. bicoloratum was studied by using light and scanning electron microscopy and histological sections. Pollen tube growth in the selfing variant was further observed via X-ray computed microtomography (micro-CT), providing 3D reconstructions of floral tissues at a micron scale.Selfing variants possess a suberect ('displaced') rostellum rather than the conventional, erect type. Very early in anthesis, the pollinia of selfers are released from the anther and slide down onto the suberect rostellum, where pollen tube growth preferentially occurs through the non-vascularized, i.e. rear (adaxial) and (semi-) lateral parts. This penetrated tissue is comprised of a thin layer of elongate and loosely arranged cells, embedded in stigmatic exudates, as also observed in the stigmatic cavity of both selfing and outcrossing variants.Our results provide the first solid evidence of a stigmatic function for the rostellum in orchid flowers, thereby demonstrating for the first time the feasibility of the micro-CT technique for accurately visualizing pollen tube growth in flowering plants. Rostellum receptivity in B. bicoloratum probably uniquely evolved as an adaptation for reproductive assurance from an outcrossing ancestor possessing an erect (non-receptive) rostellum. These findings open up new avenues in the investigation of an organ that apparently re-gained its 'primordial function' of being penetrated by pollen tubes.