Reproductive Biology of Clethra alnifolia

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  • 1 Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit, U.S. National Arboretum, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tennessee State University Otis L. Floyd Nursery Research Center, 472 Cadillac Lane, McMinnville, TN 37110

Breeding efforts in Clethra alnifolia L., an ornamental shrub native to the Eastern U.S., are hindered by a lack of information on the reproductive behavior of this species. The objective of this study was to evaluate self-compatibility, time of stigma receptivity, and the relationship between time of pollen shed and stigma receptivity in C. alnifolia. Stigma receptivity and changes in floral morphology were monitored over a 7-day period beginning at flower opening. Pollen germination and pollen tube growth in styles were examined following self- and cross-pollinations using fluorescence microscopy. Seed set and germination were compared following self- and cross-pollinations. Anthers began to dehisce in `Hummingbird' and `Ruby Spice' the day after flowers opened, but stigmas did not become fully receptive to pollen until 2 days later. An increase in the length of pistils was observed following flower opening. Maximum elongation of pistils occurred at approximately the same time stigmas became receptive and could be utilized as an indicator of receptivity. While self-pollen tubes appeared to grow slightly slower than cross-pollen tubes, there was no indication of a self-incompatibility system acting at the stigmatic or stylar level in C. alnifolia. Self-pollinations of `Hummingbird' and `Ruby Spice' produced fewer seeds than did cross-pollinations of these cultivars. Germination of all seed obtained from this study was too poor to allow a comparison of germination rates of the self- and cross-pollinated seed. However, because a few self-progeny were obtained, emasculation is recommended when making controlled pollinations. The presence of a late acting self-incompatibility system or early-acting inbreeding depression was proposed as being responsible for the lower seed set following self-pollination.

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