Lamiaceae | Salvia

Large genera are appropriate model systems to investigate adaptive radiation and character diversification. This is also true for Salvia, with more than 1,000 species the largest genus in the Lamiaceae. Salvia is almost world-wide distributed and highly diverse in morphology and ecology. Apart from its medicinal and culinary benefits, the genus is well-known for its staminal lever-mechanism which is the classical example of dorsal (nototribic) pollination.

To reconstruct the evolution of Salvia and, in particular, its pollination mechanism, we conducted morphological, biomechanical, developmental, ecological and phylogenetic studies. The most important results are:

  • The lever movement is easily releasable, reversible and precise; it contributes to mechanical isolation.
  • The lever mechanism most likely co-evolved with bee-pollination; it protects the flower from exceeding pollen loss and renders nectar thieves to pollinators.
  • Shifts from bee- to bird-pollination resulted in repeated losses of the lever mechanism.



Diversity and evolution in Salvia (Drawing: D. Franke, 'Development' after Ontogeny Trapp 1956)