Primitive and Derived Characters

Characters can be thought of as either primitive or derived. The following list follows the ideas used in the Cronquist system of classification, that is, Magnolia is primitive. Most plants show some combination of primitive and derived characters. In studying this list, it may help to think of Magnolia or Liriodendron as primitive and an orchid as derived.

Click on each character to see an image of a plant demonstrating the character. Return to this page by clicking your browser's "back" button. In the context of this lesson, it is not necessary that you know the names of the plants. This review is also available on the video in the EDMS in the library. Images are not necssarily the same.
Woody--tree Herbaceous, esp. annual--grass
Evergreen--holly Deciduous--Chinese Pistache
Leaves alternate--oak Leaves opposite or whorled
Leaves simple--holly Leaves compound--senna (one leaf)
Flowers solitary--magnolia Flowers in inflorescences--mustard
Flowers large and showy--Eustoma Flowers small, inconspicuous--pigweed
Flowers perfect--sedum Flowers unisexual--holly (male flowers)
Flowers complete (all 4 whorls)--plum Whorl(s) absent or reduced--goosefoot (no corolla)
Long floral axis--magnolia--stamens gone, pistils remaining Short floral axis, parts on receptacle--flax
Floral parts many--prickly pear Floral parts few/absent/reduced--spiderwort
Floral parts spirally arranged--magnolia Floral parts in circles--trifoliate orange
No connation or adnation--buttercup Connation--morning-glory (petals united)/adnation--orchid (stamens and stigma united into column)/modification
Actinomorphy--standing cypress Zygomorphy--delphinium
Calyx and corolla similar--Nemastylis Calyx and corolla different--obedient plant
Leaf-like stamens--waterlily Well-developed filament and anther--pineapple guava
Apocarpy--buttercup Syncarpy--orange
Poorly developed style and stigma--Drimys Well-developed style and stigma--evening primrose
Polllination by primitive insect (beetle, etc.)--prickly pear Pollinated by advanced insect (bee, wasp, etc.)--black-eyed susan
Primary wind pollination*--oak Secondary wind pollination*--fescue grass

*Primary wind pollination occurs in taxa so primitive that they never developed showy flowers for insect pollination (e.g. many Hamamelidae). Secondary wind pollination occurs in taxa so derived that they have lost their showy flowers (e.g. grasses).

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