Amphicarpic plants: definition, ecology, geographic distribution, systematics, life history, evolution and use in agriculture

Keliang Zhang, Jerry M. Baskin, Carol C. Baskin, Gregory P. Cheplick, Xuejun Yang, Zhenying Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Although most plants produce all of their fruits (seeds) aboveground, amphicarpic species produce fruits (seeds) both above- and belowground. Our primary aims were to determine the number of reported amphicarpic species and their taxonomic, geographic, life form and phylogenetic distribution, to evaluate differences in the life history of plants derived from aerial and subterranean seeds, to discuss the ecological and evolutionary significance of amphicarpy, to explore the use of amphicarpic plants in agriculture, and to suggest future research directions for studies on amphicarpy. Amphicarpy occurs in at least 67 herbaceous species (31 in Fabaceae) in 39 genera and 13 families of angiosperms distributed in various geographical regions of the world and in various habitats. Seeds from aerial and subterranean fruits differ in size/mass, degree of dormancy, dispersal and ability to form a persistent seed bank, with aerial seeds generally being smaller, more dormant and more likely to be dispersed and to form a seed bank than subterranean seeds. In addition, plants produced by aerial and subterranean seeds may differ in survival and growth, competitive ability and biomass allocation to reproduction. Amphicarpic plants may exhibit a high degree of plasticity during reproduction. Subterranean fruits are usually formed earlier than aerial ones, and plants may produce only subterranean propagules under stressful environmental conditions. Differences in the life histories of plants from aerial and subterranean seeds may be an adaptive bet-hedging strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1442-1466
Number of pages25
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Biological Reviews published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cambridge Philosophical Society.


  • amphicarpy
  • bet-hedging
  • chasmogamous and cleistogamous flowers
  • life history
  • phylogeny
  • reproductive plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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