Origins and nature of vessels in monocotyledons: 8. Orchidaceae

Sherwin Carlquist, Edward L. Schneider

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19 Scopus citations


Xylem of the orchids studied provided unusually favorable material to demonstrate how conductive tissue evolves in monocotyledons. In the end walls of tracheary elements of many Orchidaceae, remnants of pit membranes were observed with scanning electron microscopy and minimally destructive methods. The full range from tracheids to vessel elements, featuring many intermediate stages, was illustrated with SEM in hand sections of fixed roots, stems, and inflorescence axes of 13 species from four subfamilies. Pit membranes in end walls of tracheary elements are porose to reticulate in roots of all species, but nonporose in stems of Cypripedioideae and Vanilloideae and porose to reticulate in stems of Orchidoideae and Epidendroideae. The distribution pattern of pit membranes and pit membrane remnants in end walls of tracheary elements of orchids parallels the findings of others. The position of Cypripedioideae and Vanilloideae as outgroups to Orchidoideae and Epidendroideae, claimed by earlier authors, is supported by clades based on molecular studies and by our studies. Little hydrolysis of pit membranes in tracheary element end walls was observed in pseudobulbs or inflorescence axes of epidendroids. The pervasiveness of network-like pit membranes of various extents and patterns in end walls of tracheary elements in Orchidaceae calls into question the traditional definitions of tracheids and vessel elements, not merely in orchids, but in angiosperms at large. These two concepts, based on light microscope studies, are blurred in light of ultrastructural studies. More importantly, the intermediate expressions of pit membranes in tracheary element end walls of Orchidaceae and some other families of angiosperms are important as indicators of steps in evolution of conduction with respect to organs (more rapid flow in roots than in succulent storage structures) and habitat (less obstruction to flow correlated with a shift from terrestrial to epiphytic).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)963-971
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell wall hydrolysis
  • Orchidaceae
  • Pit membrane remnants
  • Tracheids
  • Vessel elements
  • Xylem evolution


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