Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology



First Reader/Committee Chair

Williams, Kimberlyn


Invasive species are often successful and problematic because of their ability to persist in disturbed and undisturbed environments despite weed management practices. Understanding reproduction and dispersal strategies in these species can aid in developing management approaches to help control their spread. Centaurea melitensis, a nonnative invasive with European origins, is found in disturbed areas of southern California. It produces three different types of flower heads that develop at different times and at different locations on the plant during the growing season. The chasmogamous (CH) flower heads are located at the top of the plant, the initial cleistogamous (iCL) heads are located at the base of the plant and at some branch and axillary points, and the final cleistogamous (fCL) heads are located along the stem and at some branch points. This pattern differs from that in Centaurea solstitialis, its most closely related congener, which develops one type of flower head with two morphologically distinct achenes within each flower head: peripheral and center achenes. The overall objective of this study was to examine potential differences between peripheral and center achenes of Centaurea melitensis, including morphological differences in dispersal features, potential differences in response to temperature, tendency to disperse, dormancy and viability. The approach involved selecting whole plants from the field and separating peripheral and center achenes from each of the three head types. Morphological differences were assessed by measuring mass, fruit length, fruit width, pappus length, pappus width, and elaiosome features. Temperature response patterns were evaluated by exposing peripheral and center achenes to temperatures ranging from 5 C to 30 C and measuring germination. Tendency of different achene types to remain in the flower heads was assessed by comparing ratios of peripheral to center achenes in heads immediately after maturation (March to June) to the ratios remaining in heads in early fall (September). Viability and dormancy testing was performed using a cut test and tetrazolium chloride tests in conjunction with germination tests. Results of these studies indicate that peripheral achenes of Centaurea melitensis were lighter and narrower, with shorter pappi and smaller elaiosomes than center achenes. Peripheral achenes responded similarly to their center counterparts in germination response to temperature, but the pattern differed among head types. Broad temperature optima were observed within the fCL and CH heads and a narrow optimum was observed in iCL. There was no evidence that the peripheral achenes remained in the heads longer than the center achenes. Ratios of peripheral to center achenes were 3.8:1 in CH heads, 2.23:1 in iCL heads, and 1.94:1 in fCL heads. Peripheral achenes were more likely to be dormant while maintaining viability than center achenes were. The results of this study, therefore, indicate that peripheral and center achenes of Centaurea melitensis differ morphologically. Dispersal features, such as pappi and elaiosomes, were more highly developed in center achenes than in peripheral achenes, but these differences were not reflected in differences in behavior to the extent we could measure it (i.e., the tendency to remain in heads or the germination responses to temperature). Differences between peripheral and center achenes of Centaurea melitensis trended in the same direction as differences seen in its closely related congener, Centaurea solstitialis, which has center achenes that disperse more readily than peripheral achenes. However, the differences observed in Centaurea melitensis were not as pronounced as those seen in Centaurea solstitialis.

Included in

Weed Science Commons