In botany, apomixis is asexual reproduction without fertilization. Its etymology is Greek for "away from" + "mixing". This definition notably does not mention meiosis. Thus "normal asexual reproduction" of plants, such as propagation from cuttings or leaves, has never been considered to be apomixis, but replacement of the seed by a plantlet or replacement of the flower by bulbils were categorized as types of apomixis. Apomictically produced offspring are genetically identical to the parent plant.
Some authors included all forms of asexual reproduction within apomixis, but that generalization of the term has since died out.
In flowering plants, the term "apomixis" is commonly used in a restricted sense to mean agamospermy, i.e., clonal reproduction through seeds. Although agamospermy could theoretically occur in gymnosperms, it appears to be absent in that group.
Apogamy is a related term that has had various meanings over time. In plants with independent gametophytes (notably ferns), the term is still used interchangeably with "apomixis", and both refer to the formation of sporophytes by parthenogenesis of gametophyte cells.
Male apomixis (paternal apomixis) involves replacement of the genetic material of an egg by the genetic material of the pollen.
Because apomictic plants are genetically identical from one generation to the next, each lineage has some of the characters of a true species, maintaining distinctions from other apomictic lineages within the same genus, while having much smaller differences than is normal between species of most genera. They are therefore often called microspecies. In some genera, it is possible to identify and name hundreds or even thousands of microspecies, which may be grouped together as species aggregates, typically listed in floras with the convention "Genus species agg." (such as the bramble, Rubus fruticosus agg.). In some plant families, genera with apomixis are quite common, for example in Asteraceae, Poaceae, and Rosaceae. Examples of apomixis can be found in the genera Crataegus (hawthorns), Amelanchier (shadbush), Sorbus (rowans and whitebeams), Rubus (brambles or blackberries), Poa (meadow grasses), Nardus stricta (matgrass), Hieracium (hawkweeds) and Taraxacum (dandelions). Apomixis is reported to occur in about 10% of globally extant ferns. Among polystichoid ferns, apomixis evolved several times independently in three different clades.
Although the evolutionary advantages of sexual reproduction are lost, apomixis can pass along traits fortuitous for evolutionary fitness. As Jens Clausen put it:: 470
The apomicts actually have discovered the effectiveness of mass production long before Mr. Henry Ford applied it to the production of the automobile. ... Facultative apomixis ... does not prevent variation; rather, it multiplies certain varietal products.
Facultative apomixis means that apomixis does not always occur, i.e., sexual reproduction can also happen. It appears likely that all apomixis in plants is facultative; in other words, that "obligate apomixis" is an artifact of insufficient observation (missing uncommon sexual reproduction).
The gametophytes of bryophytes, and less commonly ferns and lycopods can develop a group of cells that grow to look like a sporophyte of the species but with the ploidy level of the gametophyte, a phenomenon known as apogamy. The sporophytes of plants of these groups may also have the ability to form a plant that looks like a gametophyte but with the ploidy level of the sporophyte, a phenomenon known as apospory.
See also androgenesis and androclinesis described below, a type of male apomixis that occurs in a conifer, Cupressus dupreziana.
Agamospermy, asexual reproduction through seeds, occurs in flowering plants through many different mechanisms and a simple hierarchical classification of the different types is not possible. Consequently, there are almost as many different usages of terminology for apomixis in angiosperms as there are authors on the subject. For English speakers, Maheshwari 1950 is very influential. German speakers might prefer to consult Rutishauser 1967. Some older text books on the basis of misinformation (that the egg cell in a meiotically unreduced gametophyte can never be fertilized) attempted to reform the terminology to match the term parthenogenesis as it is used in zoology, and this continues to cause much confusion.
Agamospermy occurs mainly in two forms: In gametophytic apomixis, the embryo arises from an unfertilized egg cell (i.e. by parthenogenesis) in a gametophyte that was produced from a cell that did not complete meiosis. In adventitious embryony (sporophytic apomixis), an embryo is formed directly (not from a gametophyte) from nucellus or integument tissue (see nucellar embryony).
Maheshwari used the following simple classification of types of apomixis in flowering plants:
Gametophytic apomixis in flowering plants develops in several different ways. A megagametophyte develops with an egg cell within it that develops into an embryo through parthenogenesis. The central cell of the megagametophyte may require fertilization to form the endosperm, pseudogamous gametophytic apomixis, or in autonomous gametophytic apomixis endosperm fertilization is not required.
Considerable confusion has resulted because diplospory is often defined to involve the megaspore mother cell only, but a number of plant families have a multicellular archesporium and the megagametophyte could originate from another archesporium cell.
Diplospory is further subdivided according to how the megagametophyte forms:
Apomixis occurs in at least 33 families of flowering plants, and has evolved multiple times from sexual relatives. Apomictic species or individual plants often have a hybrid origin, and are usually polyploid.
In plants with both apomictic and meiotic embryology, the proportion of the different types can differ at different times of year, and photoperiod can also change the proportion. It appears unlikely that there are any truly completely apomictic plants, as low rates of sexual reproduction have been found in several species that were previously thought to be entirely apomictic.
The genetic control of apomixis can involve a single genetic change that affects all the major developmental components, formation of the megagametophyte, parthenogenesis of the egg cell, and endosperm development. However, the timing of the various developmental processes is critical to successful development of an apomictic seed, and the timing can be affected by multiple genetic factors.