Pollinators, "mustard oil" volatiles, and fruit production in flowers of the dioecious tree Drypetes natalensis (Putranjivaceae)

S Johnson, M Griffiths, C PETER, Michael Lawes

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The Putranjivaceae is an enigmatic family, notable for being the only lineage outside the Capparales to possess the glucosinolate biochemical pathway, which forms the basis of an induced chemical defense system against herbivores (the "mustard oil bomb"). We investigated the pollination biology and floral scent chemistry of Drypetes natalensis (Putranjivaceae), a dioecious subcanopy tree with flowers borne on the stem (cauliflory). Flowering male trees were more abundant than female ones and produced about 10-fold more flowers. Flowers of both sexes produce copious amounts of nectar on disc-like nectaries accessible to short-tongued insects. The main flower visitors observed were cetoniid beetles, bees, and vespid wasps. Pollen load analysis indicated that these insects exhibit a high degree of fidelity to D. natalensis flowers. Insects effectively transfer pollen from male to female plants resulting in about 31% of female flowers developing fruits with viable seeds. Cetoniid beetles showed significant orientation toward the scent of D. natalensis flowers in a Y-maze olfactometer. The scents of male and female flowers are similar in chemical composition and dominated by fatty acid derivatives and isothiocyanates from the glucosinolate pathway. The apparent constitutive emission of isothiocyanates raises interesting new questions about their functional role in flowers.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2080-2086
    Number of pages7
    JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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