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Common monkey-flower. Order: Lamiales Family: currently Phrymaceae (see more on taxonomy below) Annual or perennial, 30-50 cm in height Preferred habitat: banks of streams and rivers

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Common monkey-flower

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common monkey flower
Common monkey-flower
  • Order: Lamiales
  • Family: currently Phrymaceae (see more on taxonomy below)
  • Annual or perennial, 30-50 cm in height
  • Preferred habitat: banks of streams and rivers
  • Native to North America. Originally brought as a decorative plant to Europe via Scotland in the 19th century [1], it can now also be found as a part of wild flora
  • Propagation is possible both by seeds (pollination by insects) and rhizome cuttings
  • Study conducted with M. primuloides populations growing in different altitudes in California revealed less successful inflorescences to be produced and seedlings to be mostly non-viable in greater altitude as rhizomes take over the major procreation role [2]
  • No published reports of micropropagation, in-vitro culture or genetic transformation (as of July 2009)

Mimulus guttatus plants grown for the rhizome project (June 2009)

[1] [2] Douglas 1981

  • Historically a Scrophulariaceae, the genus was moved to the family of Phrymaceae on the basis of chloroplast and nucleus DNA sequences [1-3]
  • Mimulus is the largest genus (>120 species) in the family. It is not monophyletic, at least 6 other genera have evolved from within it [2]
  • These species are organized in complexes with differing habits: M. guttatus complex are small herbs, M. cardinalis compex are shrub-like perennials. It is not unlikely the genus will be split into several genera as data comes in


Max. likelihood tree of the studied Phrymaceae species demonstrates several interrelated genera/species still need to be untwined, as several nodes (marked with *are only weakly supported [1]

[1] Olmstead et al. (2001) [2] Beardsley & Olmstead (2002) [3] Beardsley & Barker (2005)

  • The genus Mimulus is cosmopolitan
  • Some 90 monkeyflower species identified in the US and Canada
  • Various species exhibit differing climate adaptation. For instance, whereas M. guttatus is mostly found on the West coast, M. glabratus and M. ringens grow across the continent, and M. alatus occurs in the Southeast of the US
  • Studies with selected hybrids indicate adaptation to one habitat may entail loss of features essential for survival under contrasting conditions, explaining in part region limitations [1]. Nearly complete reproductive isolation of M. lewisii from M. cardinalis is believed to be engendered by ecogeographic speciation [2], however, the role of post- and prezygotic barriers still needs to be studied in depth
  • Numerous taxa endemic to California
  • Several species listed as endangered (visit

Maps of Mimulus spec. (below) and specifically M. guttatus (above) occurrence in North America. ( )

[1] Angert et al. (2008) [2] Ramsey et al. (2003)

mimulus as a model plant
Mimulus as a model plant
  • Features that make the genus Mimulus a suitable model plant are e.g. [reviewed in 1]:
    • Comparatively small genome of ca. 430 MBp
    • Abundant ecological and evolutionary studies
    • High genetic diversity, placement in the plant kingdom
    • Interspecific crossing barriers high to almost inexistent
    • Short generation time
    • Easy propagation and cross-pollination
  • Developing resource sites:
    • M. guttatus and M. cardinalis:
    • Genome sequencing project (NCBI project ID 13880) carried out at DOE Joint Genome Institute

[1] Wu et al. (2008)

pollination studies
Pollination studies
  • Investigation of traits decisive for pollinator visitations on hybrids of M. lewisii and M. cardinalis, resp., indicates the flower anthocyanin content and nectar production to be essential for insect discouragement and hummingbird attraction [1,2]
  • One major allele shift (flower color, dependent on carotenoid content) seems to be responsible for the change in pollinator preference [3]
  • Similar floral traits appear to influence the pollinator preference in Mimulus section Erythranthe [4]
  • Interestingly, similar floral coloration (anthocyanin presence in petals) of Chilean Mimulus species might have evolved independently by three different genetic pathways [5]

Near isogenic lines (full siblings) of M. lewisii with alternate alleles in the YUP (yellow upper) locus. Pink wild-type flower (left) attracted mostly bumblebees, orange mutants received dramatically reduced number of insect visitations whereas hummingbird visitation was ca. 70x increased in comparison to wild type [3]

[1] Bradshaw et al. (1995) [2] Schemske & Bradshaw (1999) [3] Bradshaw & Schemske (2003) [4] Beardsley et al. (2003) [5] Cooley & Willis (2009)

adaptation salt and copper tolerance
Adaptation – salt and copper tolerance
  • Ecological studies on morphologically and genetically divergent sister species of M. guttatus (inland annuals and coastal perennials)
  • Almost complete reproductive isolation of these adapted populations is due to strong selection against immigrants at respective foreign habitat and differences in flowering time rather than postzygotic isolation [1]
  • NaCl tolerance and high salt accumulation observed in coastal perennial M. guttatus are effected by three and two QTLs, resp., which don’t have affect the in-field fitness under low-salt conditions [2]
  • Copper-tolerant M. guttatus and recently evolved M. cupriphilis colonies found around copper mines [3]. There is data suggesting the tolerance mechanism relies on changes in cell membrane permeability rather than phytochelatins [4]
  • Cost of tolerance refers to their low fitness on uncontaminated soil [5]. This appears not to be a consequence of decreased total metal uptake, resulting in micronutrient deficiency [6]

[1] Lowry et al. (2008) [2] Lowry et al. (2009) [3] Macnair 1989 [4] Strange & Macnair (1991) [5] Macnair 1981 [6] Harper et al. (1997)

medicinal use
Medicinal use
  • Mimulus is one of the 38 main plants employed in Bach flower remedies (alternative psychosomatic healing philosophy founded by Dr. Edward Bach (1886-1936) which regards a disease as a result of disharmony between a person’s mind and soul, and mental discomfort as a cause of physical disease. The flower remedies are supposed to restore personality’s integrity and peace of mind, thus preventing bodily sickness)
  • Mimulus is indicated when suffering a “fear of known things”


  • Almost exclusively floral constituents of Mimulus spec. isolated, several studies on distribution pattern (spots of two-colored leaves) [1]
  • Mostly pigments subject of study (carotenoids, xanthins, anthocyanins, malonylated flavonoids) [2-4]
  • Herbacetin (8-OH kaempferol) 7-O-glucoside
  • Geranylated flavonoids [5] and a geranylated α-pyrone isolated from leaf surface resin of M. aurantiacus [6]
  • No reports on the phytochemistry of rhizomes

6-geranylated flavonoids (R1-3 = OH or OCH3) isolated from M. clevelandii [5]

Structure of the geranylated α-pyrone from

M. aurantiacus [6]

[1] Bloom & Vickery (1973) [2] Ferro et al. (1972) [3] Nitsche 1972 [4] Goodwin & Thomas (1964) [5] Philipps et al. (1996) [6] Hare & Borchardt (2002)