On the origins of observations of heterostyly in Primula

Philip Gilmartin

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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In 1862, Charles Darwin published his landmark study on the different forms of flower in Primula; he coined the term distyly and subsequently expanded his studies to other species, including those with tristyly. Darwin is widely recognized as the first to study pin and thrum flowers in Primula, and to provide an explanation for the functional significance of the two floral morphs. Our laboratory is pursuing the genes that underpin floral heteromorphy in Primula, work influenced by Darwin's observations. One day, while appreciating a print of Primula vulgaris from William Curtis’ Flora Londinensis, I was struck by the fact that I was looking at images of dimorphic Primula flowers captured in a late-1700s copper-plate engraving that predated Darwin's observations by over 70 yr. This realization triggered a journey into archives of botanical texts, herbals and florilegia from the 16th to 19th Centuries, and correspondence archives, in search of earlier documents that could have influenced Darwin and the origins of an idea. Darwin was not the first to observe floral heteromorphy in Primula, but he was the first to realize the significance of the two floral morphs. Darwin's insight and exposition of purpose have underpinned all consequent work on the subject.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-51
Number of pages22
JournalNew Phytologist
Early online date10 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2015


  • floral heteromorphy
  • flower development
  • heterostyly
  • Primula, S locus

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