Premise of research. One of the most conspicuous aspects of island floras is the relatively high proportion of woody species. Often, but not always, these woody species have developed wood on the islands and have evolved from herbaceous continental ancestors, a phenomenon known as insular woodiness. Shifts from herbaceousness toward increased woodiness also occur on continents (the broader term “secondary woodiness” is more appropriate here and includes insular woodiness), but comprehensive worldwide knowledge about secondary woodiness within angiosperms remains lacking. We update hypotheses regarding the herbaceous ancestry of woody Canarian lineages in a molecular phylogenetic context and investigate the possible link of secondary woodiness and paedomorphic wood features in the Carlquistian sense. Methodology. We have assembled available literature data from molecular phylogenetic studies, wood anatomical descriptions, floras, and taxonomic revisions to identify the native secondarily woody taxa. Pivotal results. In total, at least 220 native Canary Island species of flowering plants, from 34 genera representing 15 families, are truly insular woody. This represents a significant portion of the native nonmonocot angiosperm species on the Canaries, and all of the insular woody species have paedomorphic wood features in the Carlquistian sense, although this wood anatomical syndrome might be more related to particular life forms. The majority of these insular woody groups typically grow in the markedly dry lowland regions, suggesting a possible link between secondary woodiness and increased drought resistance. Conclusions. The Canary Island flora is characterized by at least 38 independent shifts toward insular woodiness, representing an important portion of the endemic angiosperms on the archipelago. These convergent evolutionary events emphasize the remarkable lability in growth forms between herbaceous and woody lineages, but it remains puzzling which environmental variables trigger these shifts and how these independent shifts are regulated genetically.

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International Journal of Plant Sciences
Staff publications

Lens, F., Davin, N., Smets, E., & del Arco, M. (2013). Insular woodiness on the Canary Islands: a remarkable case of convergent evolution. International Journal of Plant Sciences, 174(7), 992–1013. doi:10.1086/670259