Carpels are the female reproductive organs within a flower that enclose the ovules, protecting them and screening out inappropriate pollen. They arose, probably from leaf‐like organs, long after the origin of ovules. Genes controlling key steps in carpel and ovule development are being discovered.

Keywords: angiosperm; carpel; gynoecium; ovule; pollen tube guidance

Figure 1.

Structure of carpels of the model laboratory species Arabidopsis thaliana. (a) Scanning electron micrograph of a mature flower with several sepals, petals and stamens removed to reveal the central female reproductive organ (medial view). This is made up of two congenitally fused carpels (left and right) that are together called the gynoecium. The three components of the gynoecium are an upper stigma with papillae on which pollen grains germinate, a short style with internal transmitting tract tissues through which the pollen tubes grow and a large, two chambered ovary. Each chamber represents one carpel, and the two chambers are separated by a septum, which also carries transmitting tract tissues. (b) Side (lateral) view of a gynoecium of Arabidopsis with part of the ovary wall dissected away. This reveals the internal ovules within one of the two chambers (corresponding to one of the two carpels). Each ovule has a short stalk (funiculus, f), an internal nucellus that carries the embryo sac (including the female gamete) and two sheaths of tissue (integuments, i) surrounding the entrance to the ovule (micropyle). In this species, the integuments are turned upwards (anatropous). Pollen grains have germinated on the stigma, and pollen tubes (t) have grown down the style and septum, and several can be seen in the chamber (top right). (c) Cleared gynoecium of Arabidopsis in which the pollen tubes have been selectively stained with the fluorochrome aniline blue. Their path of travel from the stigma, down the transmitting tract, and to micropyles of individual ovules, can be observed. (a) and (c) Reproduced from Alvarez and Smyth with permission of The University of Chicago Press and (b), courtesy of John Alvarez.

Figure 2.

Carpel structure in the most primitive angiosperm, Amborella trichopoda. Flowers of this New Caledonian woody shrub have several free urn‐shaped carpels, each with a single ovule. In this diagram of a longitudinal section of one carpel, the large cap of stigmatic cells, the narrow canal through which pollen tubes grow (the transmitting tract) and the single, penduluous (orthotropous) ovule within the ovary are visible. Both the canal and the chamber around the ovule are filled with secretion. The floral axis is on the left. For further details see Endress and Igersheim .



Alvarez J and Smyth DR (1999) CRABS CLAW and SPATULA, two Arabidopsis genes that control carpel development in parallel with AGAMOUS. Development 126: 2377–2386.

Alvarez J and Smyth DR (2002) CRABS CLAW and SPATULA genes regulate growth and pattern formation during gynoecium development in Arabidopsis thaliana. International Journal of Plant Sciences 163: 17–41.

Colombo L, Franken J and Koetje E et al. (1995) The petunia MADS box gene FBP11 determines ovule identity. Plant Cell 7: 1859–1868.

Endress PK and Igersheim A (2000) Gynoecium structure and evolution in basal angiosperms. International Journal of Plant Sciences 161(suppl.): S211–S233.

Higashiyama T, Yabe S and Sasaki N et al. (2001) Pollen tube attraction by the synergid cell. Science 293: 1480–1483.

Kao T and Tsukamoto T (2004) The molecular and genetic basis of S‐RNase‐based self‐incompatibility. Plant Cell 16(suppl.): S72–S83.

Kuusk S, Sohlberg JJ and Long JA et al. (2002) STY1 and STY2 promote the formation of apical tissues during Arabidopsis gynoecium development. Development 129: 4707–4717.

Márton ML, Cordts S, Broadhvest J and Dresselhaus T (2005) Micropylar pollen tube guidance by Egg Apparatus 1 of maize. Science 307: 573–576.

Nasrallah JB (2002) Recognition and rejection of self in plant reproduction. Science 296: 305–308.

Nemhauser JL, Feldman LJ and Zambryski PC (2000) Auxin and ETTIN in Arabidopsis gynoecium morphogenesis. Development 127: 3877–3888.

Palanivelu R, Brass L, Edlund AF and Preuss D (2003) Pollen tube growth and guidance is regulated by POP2, an Arabidopsis gene that controls GABA levels. Cell 114: 47–59.

Payne T, Johnson SD and Koltunow AM (2004) KNUCKLES (KNU) encodes a C2H2 zinc‐finger protein that regulates development of basal pattern elements of the Arabidopsis gynoecium. Development 131: 3737–3749.

Pinyopich A, Ditta GS and Savidge B et al. (2003) Assessing the redundancy of MADS‐box genes during carpel and ovule development. Nature 424: 85–88.

Qiu Y‐L, Lee J, Bernasconi‐Quadroni et al. (1999) The earliest angiosperms: Evidence from mitochondrial, plastid and nuclear genomes. Nature 402: 404–407.

Skinner DJ, Hill TA and Gasser CS (2004) Regulation of ovule development. Plant Cell 16(suppl.): S32–S45.

Weterings K and Russell SD (2004) Experimental analysis of the fertilization process. Plant Cell 16(suppl.): S107–S118.

Further Reading

Bowman JL, Baum SF, Eshed Y, Putterill J and Alvarez J (1999) Molecular genetics of gynoecium development in Arabidopsis. Current Topics in Developmental Biology 45: 155–205.

Crane PR, Friis EM and Pederson KR (1995) The origin and early diversification of angiosperms. Nature 374: 27–33.

Cresti M, Blackmore S and van Went JL (1992) Atlas of Sexual Reproduction in Flowering Plants. Berlin: Springer.

Endress PK (1994) Diversity and Evolutionary Biology of Tropical Flowers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Friis EM, Pederson KR and Crane PR (2005) When Earth started blooming: insights from the fossil record. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 8: 5–12.

Irish V (2003) The evolution of floral homeotic gene function. BioEssays 25: 637–646.

Jack T (2004) Molecular and genetic mechanisms of floral control. Plant Cell 16(suppl.): S1–S17.

Smyth DR (2005) Morphogenesis of flowers – our evolving view. Plant Cell 17: 330–341.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Smyth, David R(Sep 2006) Carpels. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002067.pub2]