Streptocarpus shows great variation in vegetative architecture. In some species a normal shoot apical meristem never forms and the entire vegetative plant body may consist of a single giant cotyledon, which may measure up to 0.75 m (the unifoliate type) or with further leaves arising from this structure (the rosulate type). A molecular phylogeny of 87 taxa (77 Streptocarpus species, seven related species, and three outgroup species) using the internal transcribed spacers and 5.8S region of nuclear ribosomal DNA suggests that Streptocarpus can be divided into two major clades. One of these broadly corresponds to the caulescent group (with conventional shoot architecture) classified as subgenus Streptocarpella, whereas the other is mainly composed of acaulescent species with unusual architecture (subgenus Streptocarpus). Some caulescent species (such as S. papangae) are anomalously placed with the acaulescent clade. Available cytological data are, however, completely congruent with the two major clades: the caulescent clade is x = 15 and the acaulescent clade (including the caulescent S. papangae) is x = 16 (or polyploid multiples of 16). The genera Linnaeopsis, Saintpaulia, and Schizoboea are nested within Streptocarpus. The sequenced region has evolved, on average, 2.44 times faster in the caulescent clade than in the acaulescent clade and this is associated with the more rapid life cycle of the caulescents. Morphological variation in plant architecture within the acaulescent clade is homoplastic and does not appear to have arisen by unique abrupt changes. Instead, rosulate and unifoliate growth forms have evolved several times, reversals have occurred, and intermediate architectures are found. An underlying developmental plasticity seems to be a characteristic of the acaulescent clade and is reflected in a great lability of form.
Corresponding Editor: D. Baum