MSU Plant Biology Department

L. Alan Prather


Associate Professor of Plant Biology Director of the Herbarium

Ph.D.(University of Texas at Austin)



Plant systematics and the evolution of floral diversity constitute the primary foci of research in my lab. Our ultimate goal is to combine studies of floral specialization at the phylogenetic level and the population level in the same plant group. Our research has focused specifically on the phylogeny of the Polemoniaceae and Lamiaceae, the evolution of pollination systems, patterns of morphological evolution, and evolutionary lability. We combine data from molecular, morphological, and field studies to explore these topics.


One of the ongoing foci of our research is floral lability and phylogenetics in the Polemoniaceae subfamily Cobaeoideae. There are four genera and over 30 species in this primarily tropical group and we are using multiple molecular markers to estimate their evolutionary history. Using a newly developed, phylogenetically based method we have determined that floral morphology is not significantly more labile than vegetative morphology, despite considerable variation in floral features among the species of Cobaea. Ongoing work focuses on the evolution of morphological traits in the entire subfamily. A monograph of Cobaea has been published and one of Cantua is being prepared. This research has resulted in discovery of several species new to science from each genus.


My lab group is also developing a phylogenetic framework for taxonomic studies of the tribe Mentheae of the Lamiaceae. We are using both nuclear and chloroplast DNA regions to show that prior morphological studies of the Lamiaceae are in many ways inadequate, due to the complicated morphological evolution of the group. We have evidence that many genera in this tribe are not monophyletic as currently circumscribed. Taxonomic work is underway in all of these genera.

Another current project in my lab is understanding how polyploidy generates morphological diversity in the genus Phlox. This is part of an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Carolyn Ferguson of Kansas State University and Dr. Shannon Fehlberg of Desert Botanical Garden. The larger project focuses on how polyploidy in a taxonomically challenging set of species generates phylgenetic, taxonomic, population genetic, and morphological diversity. 

Finally, my lab group has also contributed to our knowledge of the natural history of rare plants, the lichen flora of Michigan, and we are actively involved in developing ways of integrating herbarium collections into a broader array of research activities.

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Selected Recent Publications


Sammons, N. and L. A. Prather. Submitted. Monarda fumosa (Lamiaceae): A New Species from Chihuahua, Mexico. Novon.    

Prather, L. A. Accepted. Polemoniaceae. In: Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Bolivia. Peter Jorgensen, ed.

Monfils, A.K. and L. A. Prather. 2010. Phylogeny of Cantua (Polemoniaceae): Evidence from Chloroplast and Nuclear DNA Sequence Data. Systematic Botany 35: 877-884.

Prather, L. A. 2009. Cobaea. In: Flora Mesoamericana, Vol. 4. G. Davidse, M. Sousa S., S. Knapp, and F. Chiang, eds. Online version available at:

Porter, J. M and L. A. Prather. 2008. Cantua dendritica (Polemoniaceae), a new species from Peru, and two new Cantua names. Aliso 25: 31-35.

Monfils, A. K. and L. A. Prather. 2007. Pedicularis aurantiaca and Pedicularis densiflora (Orobanchaceae): Taxonomy, Phenology, and Floral Morphological Variation. Madroño 54: 306-321.

Funk, V. A., P. C. Hoch, L. A. Prather, and W. L. Wagner. 2005. Points of View: The Importance of Vouchers. Taxon 54: 127-129.  

Monfils, A. K. and L. A. Prather. 2004. The conserved nature and taxonomic utility of pollen grain morphology in Cantua. Grana 43: 249-256

Prather, L. A., O. Alvarez-Fuentes, M. H. Mayfield, and C. J. Ferguson. 2004The decline of plant collecting in the United States: A threat to the infrastructure of biodiversity studies. Systematic Botany 29: 15-28.

Prather, L. A., O. Alvarez-Fuentes, M. H. Mayfield, and C. J. Ferguson. 2004. Commentary: Implications of the decline in plant collecting for systematic and floristic research. Systematic Botany 29: 216-220. 


More Publications

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Current Funding

National Science Foundation, "Building a National Community of Natural History Collections"


National Science Foundation, "Systematics of Polemoniaceae Subfamily Cobaeoideae"


PLB 418: Plant Systematics

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Lab Members


Matt Chansler (MS student)

Alex Fung (Undergraduate)

Paul Helling (Undergraduate)

Mike Niezgoda (Undergraduate)

Samantha Stockwell (Undergraduate)

Hamed Suffety (Undergraduate)


Former postdoc: David Jarrell, Savannah, GA

Former PhD Students:

Anna Monfils, Associate Professor Central Michigan University

Orlando Alvarez, Adjunct Faculty, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Nate Sammons, Assistant Professor, Louisiana State University, Alexandria

Former Masters Students:

Jessie Keith, Wilmington, DE

Amanda Posto, Lab Technician at Indiana University

Grant Godden, PhD student at University of Florida

Rachel Williams, Mason, MI

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© 2007 Plant Biology Department, Michigan State University Board of Trustees.