Miscanthus ×giganteus Greef et Deu. (Poaceae), a hybrid of Miscanthus sinensis and M. sacchariflorus native to Japan, is an ornamental and a highly lignocellulosic bioenergy crop, cultivated in the European Union as an alternative source of energy. This grass reproduces exclusively vegetatively, by rhizomes or via expensive in vitro micropropagation. The present study was aimed at finding the barriers that prevent sexual seed production, based on detailed embryological analyses of the whole generative cycle, including microsporogenesis, pollen viability, megasporogenesis, female gametophyte development, and embryo and endosperm formation. Sterility of M. ×giganteus results from abnormal development of both male and female gametophytes. Disturbed microsporogenesis (laggard chromosomes, univalents, micronuclei) was further highlighted by low pollen staining. The frequency of stainable pollen ranged from 13.9% to 55.3% depending on the pollen staining test, and no pollen germination was observed either in vitro or in planta. The wide range of pollen sizes (25.5-47.6 μm) clearly indicated unbalanced pollen grain cytology, which evidently affected pollen germination. Only 9.7% of the ovules developed normally. No zygotes nor embryos were found in any analyzed ovules. Sexual reproduction of M. ×giganteus is severely hampered by its allotriploid (2n=3x=57) nature. Hybrid sterility, a strong postzygotic barrier, prevents sexual reproduction and, therefore, seed formation in this taxon.
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