Sexual reproduction is indispensable

The ultimate criterion for judging a plant's success, or the contribution of any character to that success, is the number of offspring it leaves. In this respect plants at high altitudes do not differ from others, and it is obvious that sexual reproduction cannot be abandoned in the cold. On the contrary, alpine vegetation is famous for the color and abundance of its flowers. The necessity to expand the range of a plant and to colonize new sites by dispersed seeds is a further reason why sex, inseparably linked to seed production, is indispensable for alpine plants.

Reproduction is constrained manifold

Germination and establishment are risky

Lifetime seed production of alpine species is normally high, but many seeds are lost during dispersal. Germination success is low, seedling mortality is high and outside of protected "safe sites", the establishment of a plant usually fails.

Alpine plants developed a variety of strategies to overcome these restrictions. Particularly, vegetative reproduction is a complement to sex in the cold, however without being able to replace it. Clonal plants are the topic of the following lesson.

Further reading

Part of this unit has been extracted from Körner Ch (2003) Alpine Plant Life: functional plant ecology of high mountain ecosystems. Springer, Berlin. Chapter 16: Plant reproduction, pp 258-278. The only available and up to date review on alpine plant reproduction.

Müller H (1881) Alpenblumen, ihre Befruchtung durch Insekten und ihre Anpassungen an dieselben. Leipzig. Still a valuable source of information on alpine plant reproduction. (German)

Stöcklin J, Bäumler E (1996) Seed rain, seedling establishment and clonal growth strategies on a glacier foreland. J Veg Sci 7:45-56. A case study from the Swiss Alps.


(Institute of Botany, Ecology - University of Basel)
Concept and content, photographs
(Institute of Zoology, Evolution - University of Basel)
Technical realisation, photographs
(Clinical Trial Unit - University Hospital Basel)


The formation of seeds without sexual reproduction. The seeds are genetically identical to the mother plant.
All individuals (genets) are either entirely male or female.
The coexistence of genetically controlled hermaphrodite flowers with different style lengths, and usually with reciprocal anther positions.
In at least some flowers, only one gender is ever expressed.
Accepting foreign pollen only (prohibiting self-fertilisation)
Fertilisation of an ovule by a pollen grain of another genetic individual.
Male gender expressed before female gender.
Referring to a plant in which the female part of the flower matures first
Female gender expressed before male gender.
The inability of a fertile hermaphrodite seed plant to produce zygotes after self-pollination. A mechanism ensuring outbreeding.
Fertilisation of an ovule by a pollen grain of the same genetic individual.
Decline of physiological state with age causing a decrease in fecundity and an increase in mortality.
The transition zone from the alpine to the nival belt
Development of separable vegetative shoots from the apical meristem of a spikelet (for instance in grasses).