Keeping it simple: Flowering plants tend to retain, and revert to, simple leaves

R. Geeta, Liliana M. Dávalos, André Levy, Lynn Bohs, Mathew Lavin, Klaus Mummenhoff, Neelima Sinha, Martin Wojciechowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


• A wide range of factors (developmental, physiological, ecological) with unpredictable interactions control variation in leaf form. Here, we examined the distribution of leaf morphologies (simple and complex forms) across angiosperms in a phylogenetic context to detect patterns in the directions of changes in leaf shape. • Seven datasets (diverse angiosperms and six nested clades, Sapindales, Apiales, Papaveraceae, Fabaceae, Lepidium, Solanum) were analysed using maximum likelihood and parsimony methods to estimate asymmetries in rates of change among character states. • Simple leaves are most frequent among angiosperm lineages today, were inferred to be ancestral in angiosperms and tended to be retained in evolution (stasis). Complex leaves slowly originated ('gains') and quickly reverted to simple leaves ('losses') multiple times, with a significantly greater rate of losses than gains. Lobed leaves may be a labile intermediate step between different forms. The nested clades showed mixed trends; Solanum, like the angiosperms in general, had higher rates of losses than gains, but the other clades had higher rates of gains than losses. • The angiosperm-wide pattern could be taken as a null model to test leaf evolution patterns in particular clades, in which patterns of variation suggest clade-specific processes that have yet to be investigated fully.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-493
Number of pages13
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Angiosperm
  • Character
  • Complex leaves
  • Development
  • Rate of evolution
  • Reversal
  • Simple leaves
  • Stasis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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