James Mickley examining Phlox drummondii flowers
James Mickley examining Phlox drummondii flowers in the UConn greenhouse

I am a botanist whose work and varied interests span both Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  I’m currently captivated by the puzzle of why so many plants have five-petaled flowers. While there is tremendous variation in petal number across all of flowering plants, this variation seems to have decreased as angiosperms radiated, and several lineages became fixed for five-petaled flowers.

Five petaled flowers are so predominant in the higher angiosperms that one of the largest Angiosperm clades comprising most of the Eudicots has been named Petapetalae.  I’m interested in how or why this fixation on five petals occurred: what developmental or genetic changes are required for a change in petal number, and whether these shifts were driven by selection.

Phlox cuspidata with 4 petals growing wild in Texas

Currently, I am a Ph.D. Candidate with Dr. Carl Schlichting at the University of Connecticut Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and my thesis work is with species in the Polemoniaceae (particularly Phlox), many of which have low levels of natural variation for petal number.