The symmetry spectrum in a hybridizing, tropical group of rhododendrons

Valerie L. Soza, Ricardo Kriebel, Elizabeth Ramage, Benjamin D. Hall, Alexander D Twyford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many diverse plant clades possess bilaterally symmetrical flowers and specialized pollination syndromes, suggesting that these traits may promote diversification. We examined the evolution of diverse floral morphologies in a species-rich tropical radiation of Rhododendron.
We used restriction-site associated DNA sequencing on 114 taxa from Rhododendron sect. Schistanthe to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships and examine hybridization. We then captured and quantified floral variation using geometric morphometric analyses, which we interpreted in a phylogenetic context.
We uncovered phylogenetic conflict and uncertainty caused by introgression within and between clades. Morphometric analyses revealed flower symmetry to be a morphological continuum without clear transitions between radial and bilateral symmetry. Tropical Rhododendron species that began diversifying into New Guinea around 6 million years ago expanded into novel floral morphological space.
Our results showed that the evolution of tropical Rhododendron is characterized by recent speciation, recurrent hybridization, and the origin of floral novelty. Floral variation evolved via changes to multiple components of the corolla that are only recognized in geometric morphometrics with both front and side views of flowers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1491-1506
Number of pages16
JournalNew Phytologist
Early online date11 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • rhododendron
  • flower symmetry
  • introgression
  • morphometrics


Dive into the research topics of 'The symmetry spectrum in a hybridizing, tropical group of rhododendrons'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this