/ Last Modified December 11, 2013

Evolutionary History of a Flowering Succulent to be Decoded

Genetic analysis becomes affordable for independent botanist and adenium breeder Mark Dimmitt.

For plant breeder Mark Dimmitt, his adeniums have an irresistible charisma.

"It's the only succulent plant that has both a fantastic sculptural form and puts on a spectacular flower show over a long season," he said.

Dimmitt brought the plants into cultivation from the wild more than 30 years ago. In that amount of time, he amassed a rare collection of the many wild species, and has been hybridizing them seeking traits that make them popular as ornamentals across the globe.

They are not only beautiful, but also mysterious.

Adeniums can be very diverse in their appearance. Different species of the flower can be small enough to step over or can grow as large as trees. They can have twisted or spiked leaves, and a variety of shapes and colors to their flowers.

Even Dimmitt, who has spent most of his career with adeniums, cannot know if some of his samples belong to different species based on observation alone.

Genetic analysis can provide some answers, and is finally affordable to those with a small budget.

The University of Arizona Genetics Core extracted and sequenced DNA from Dimmitt's collection.

Matt Kaplan, a UA research professor will analyze data and create a phylogenetic reconstruction, or evolutionary tree explaining the relationships among the different populations of adeniums. This type of analysis often leads to changes in taxonomy or how species are classified.

It is Dimmitt that can give meaning and context to the information.

"That is the magic part, what Mark brings is the knowledge of what these plants are and how they live their lives," Kaplan said.

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