Flower formation occurs at the shoot apical meristem and is a complex morphological event. The rosette plant Ara-bidopsis has been an important model for studies on floral development. The four floral organs (sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels) are initiated as successive whorls. Three classes of genes regulate floral development. The first class contains positive regulators of the floral meristem identity. APETALA1 (API) and LEAFY (LFY) are the most important Arabidopsis floral meristem identity genes.
Meristem identity genes are positive regulators of another class of genes that determine floral organ identity. There are five known floral organ identity genes in Ara-bidopsis: APETALA1 (API), APETALA2 (AP2), APETALA3 (AP3), PISTILLATA (PI), and AGAMOUS (AG). Cadastral genes make up the third group. Cadastral genes act as spatial regulators of the floral organ identity genes by setting boundaries for their expression.
The genes that control floral organ identity are homeotic. Most homeotic genes in plants contain the MADS box. Mutations in these genes alter the identity of the floral organs produced in two adjacent whorls. The ABC model seeks to explain how the floral homeotic genes control organ identity through the unique combinations of their products. Type A genes control organ identity in the first and second whorls. Type B activity controls organ determination in the second and third whorls. The third and fourth whorls are controlled by type C activity.
The ability to flower (i.e., to make the transition from juvenility to maturity) is attained when the plant has reached a certain age or size. In some plants, the transition to flowering then occurs independently of the environment (autonomously). Other plants require exposure to appropriate environmental conditions. The most common environmental inputs for flowering are day length and temperature.
The response to day length—photoperiodism—pro-motes flowering at a particular time of year, and several different categories of responses are known. The photope-riodic signal is perceived by the leaf. Exposure to low temperature—vernalization—is required for flowering in some plants, and this requirement is often coupled with a day length requirement. Vernalization occurs at the shoot apical meristem. Photoperiodism and vernalization interact in several ways.
Daily rhythms—circadian rhythms—can locate an event at a particular time of day. Timekeeping in these rhythms is based on an endogenous circadian oscillator. Keeping the rhythm on local time depends on the phase response of the rhythm to environmental signals. The most important signals are dawn and dusk.
Short-day plants flower when a critical duration of darkness is exceeded. Long-day plants flower when the length of the dark period is less than a critical value. Light given at certain times in a dark period that is longer than the critical value—a night break—prevents the effect of the dark period. Light also acts on the circadian oscillator to entrain the photoperiodic rhythm, an effect that is important for timekeeping in the dark. The photoperiodic mechanism shows some variation in short-day and long-day responses, but both appear to involve phytochrome and a circadian oscillator.
When photoperiod-responsive plants are induced to flower by exposure to appropriate day lengths, leaves send a chemical signal to the apex to bring about flowering. This transmissible signal is able to cause flowering in plants of different photoperiodic response groups. In noninductive day lengths, a transmissible inhibitor of flowering may be produced by the leaves of LDPs.
Although physiological experiments, especially grafting, indicate the existence of a transmissible floral stimulus and, in some cases, flowering inhibitors, the chemical identity of these factors is not known. Plant growth hormones, especially the gibberellins, can modify flowering in many plants.
The transition to flowering is regulated by multiple signals and multiple pathways. In Arabidopsis, flowering is controlled by four pathways: the photoperiodic, autonomous/vernalization, sucrose, and GA pathways. All of these pathways converge to regulate the meristem identity genes AGAMOUS-LIKE 20 (AGL20) and LEAFY (LFY). AGL20 and LFY, in turn, regulate the floral homeotic genes to produce the floral organs. The existence of multiple pathways for flowering provides angiosperms with the flexibility to reproduce under a variety of environmental conditions, thus increasing their evolutionary fitness.
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