Flower development, pollination and breeding system of the high alpine cushion plant, Eritrichium nanum (Boraginaceae), were investigated in nine populations from the European Alps at altitudes of 2700 m-3200 m. Peak flowering period lasts longer than a month. from mid-June to the end of July. In contrast to statements in the literature that flowers are protogynous and nutlets remain in their calyx until spring we found a distinct protandry and nutlets being dispersed before mid-September. Various insects from 12 families, but mostly Diptera, frequently visited E. nanum flowers, with flies from the families Anthomyiidae and Muscidae being the predominant visitors. Under optimal conditions (max. solar radiation, min. wind force), visitation rates of 200 simultaneously observed flowers reached 32.5-46.7 insects per hour. i.e. 0.16-0.24 insects per flower per hour. However. the commonly observed Anthomyiidae and Muscidae clearly preferred the white-yellowish flowers of Saxifraga exarata and Saxifraga bryoides which are abundant at E. nanum sites and which are certainly also pollinated by species of these two fly families. The flowers of these Saxifraga species offer plenty of nectar and may compete for pollinators with E. nanum, when they are flowering in its proximity. However. various other insects like Pontia callidice and Psodos sp. (Lepidoptera) as well as Andrena sp. (Hymenoptera) and especially Eristalis tenax and closely related hoverflies showed a higher degree of flower constancy to E. nanum, often flying from a blue Eritrichium cushion to the next and hence causing outcrossing. The five fornices of E. nanum flowers which obstruct the tube containing stamens and nectar, are a feature which differs distinctly from the syndrome of fly-pollinated flowers with easily accessible nectar. Consequently pollination by flies in E. nanum seems to be caused mainly by the unfavorable ecological conditions at high altitudes. where flies are the most frequent insects. Bagging experiments showed that outcrossing and geitonogany are the prevailing pollination modes, and autogamy, although possible, plays only a minor role.
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