The evolution of ovule number and flower size in wind-pollinated plants

Jannice Friedman, Spencer C.H. Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


In angiosperms, ovules are "packaged" within individual flowers, and an optimal strategy should occur depending on pollination and resource conditions. In animal-pollinated species, wide variation in ovule number per flower occurs, and this contrasts with wind-pollinated plants, where most species possess uniovulate flowers. This pattern is usually explained as an adaptive response to low pollen receipt in wind-pollinated species. Here, we develop a phenotypic model for the evolution of ovule number per flower that incorporates the aerodynamics of pollen capture and a fixed resource pool for provisioning of flowers, ovules, and seeds. Our results challenge the prevailing explanation for the association between uniovulate flowers and wind pollination. We demonstrate that when flowers are small and inexpensive, as they are in wind-pollinated species, ovule number should be minimized and lower than the average number of pollen tubes per style, even under stochastic pollination and fertilization regimes. The model predicts that plants benefit from producing many small inexpensive flowers, even though some flowers capture too few pollen grains to fertilize their ovules. Wind-pollinated plants with numerous flowers distributed throughout the inflorescence, each with a single ovule or a few ovules, sample more of the airstream, and this should maximize pollen capture and seed production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-257
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Flower size
  • Ovule number
  • Pollen limitation
  • Pollen-capture efficiency
  • Resource allocation
  • Wind pollination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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