Peter Bernhardt, Ph.D.


Courses Taught

Plants and Fungi, Ethnobotany, Pollination Biology, Biology and Classification of Orchids


Ph.D., University of Melbourne, 1981 

Research Interests

The use of flowers as model systems to study the evolution of reproduction began with the experimental and interpretative work of Charles Darwin in the 19th century. This discipline has grown even more important in the 21st century as it is applied to the investigation of breeding and pollination systems in rare and threatened species. It's a two step process. In the field, Bernhardt and his lab record biochemical and morphological changes over the life span of flowers, identifying and sampling the animals that visit the blossoms and conducting field experiments to determine whether cross-pollination is required to set seed. The plant and animals specimens they bring back to the lab must be analyzed to help answer our questions. They remove and identify the pollen grains carried by prospective pollinators. Bernhardt and his colleagues employ a series of fix, wash, squash preparations for recording the progress of pollen tubes inside pistils using fluorescence microscopy. All projects are investigated in association with research colleague, Dr. Retha Meier (Dept. of Education; 

Labs and Facilities

The Bernhardt/Meier lab works with colleagues at the following institutions; the Missouri Botanical Gardens (St. Louis, USA), the Missouri Department of Conservation (St. Louis), the Anderson Prairie Reserve (Welda, Kansas), The Plant Evolution and Systematic Division of the Beijing Academy (Beijing, China), the Royal Botanic Gardens (Sydney, New South Wales), Kings Park and Botanical Gardens (Perth, Western Australia). Ongoing projects within the Bernhardt/Meier lab include...

  • Pollination and breeding systems of rare and threatened lady's-slipper orchids (Cypripedium and Paphiopedilum) in North America and/or China (in association with Prof. Luo Yi-bo, Beijing Academy).
  • Pollination and breeding systems in milkweeds (Asclepias species) native to the American midwest.
  • Floral ecology and breeding systems of the vernal, woodland flora of the American midwest.
  • Comparative reproductive success in two color morphs of the birds foot violet (Viola pedata)
  • Floral biology of Chinese, terrestrial orchid species (Yunnan) compared to their congeners in Europe and North America

Publications and Media Placements

Gods and Goddesses in the Garden. 2008. Rutgers University Press.

The Rose's Kiss. 1999. University of Chicago Press.

Read Dr. Bernhardt's Foreword to a new book of flower photographs by the artist, joSon

Darwin's Orchids: Then and Now -

Bernhardt, P. & Edens-Meier, R. 2104. Darwin's Orchids (1862, 1877): Origins, development, and impact. In, Darwin's Orchids: Then & Now. Edens-Meier, R. & Bernhardt P. (editors). Pp. 3-22. University of Chicago Press, USA.

Edens-Meier, R. & Bernhardt, P. 2014. The Sun orchids (Thelymitra) then and now: Large flowers versus small flowers and their evolutionary implications. In, Darwin's Orchids: Then & Now.

Edens-Meier, R. & Bernhardt P. (editors). Pp. 173-200. University of Chicago Press, USA.

Edens-Meier, R., Yi-bo, L. Pemberton, R. & Bernhardt, P. 2014. Pollination and floral evolution of slipper orchids (Subfamily Cypripedioideae). In, Darwin's Orchids: Then & Now. Edens-Meier, R. & Bernhardt P. (editors). Pp. 265-290. University of Chicago Press, USA.

Ren, Z.X., Wang, H., Bernhardt, P. & Li, D.Z. 2014. Insect-pollination and self-incompatibility in edible and/or medicinal crops in southwestern China, A global hotspot of biodiversity. American Journal of Botany 101:1700-1710.

Zong-Xin, R., Hong, W., Bernhardt, P., Camilo. G. & De-Zhu, L. 2014. Which food mimic floral traits and environmental factors influence fecundity in a rare orchid, Calanthe yaoshanensis? Botanical Journal of the Linnaean Society 176:4210433.

Bernhardt, P., Edens-Meier, R., Westhus, E. & Vance, N. 2014. Bee-mediated pollen transfer in two populations of Cypripedium montanum Douglas ex Lindley. Journal of Pollination Ecology 13: 188-202.

Edens-Meier, R., Westhus, E., Bernhardt, P. 2013. Floral biology of large-flowered Thelymitra species (Orchidaceae) and their hybrids in Western Australia. Telopea 15: 165-183.

Edens-Meier, R.M., Raguso, R., Westhus, E., and Bernhardt, P. 2014. Floral fraudulence: Do blue Thelymitra species (Orchidaceae) mimic Orthrosanthus laxus (Iridaceae)> Telopea 17: 15-28.

Bermhardt, P., Meier, R. & Vance, N. 2013. Pollination ecology and floral function of Brown's peony (Paeonia brownii) in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon, Journal of Pollination Ecology. 1: 9 - 20.

Bernhardt, P. & Edens-Meier, R. 2010. What we think we know vs. what we need to know about orchid pollination and conservation: Cypripedium as a model lineage. Botanical Review 76: 204-219.

Edens-Meier, R., Arduser, M., Westhus, E. & Bernhardt, 2011. Pollination ecology of Cypripedium reginae Walter (Orchidaceae): Size Matters. Telopea 13: 327-340.

Edens-Meier, R.E., Joseph, M., Aduser, M., Westhus, E. & Bernhardt, P. 2011. The pollination biology of an annual endemic herb, Physaria filiformis (Brassicaceae), in the Missouri Ozarks following controlled burns. The Journal of The Torrey Botanical Society 138: 287-297.

Edens-Meier, R.M., Vance, N. Luo, Y.B., Li, Peng, Westhus, E. & Bernhardt, P. 2010. Pollen-Pistil interactions in North American and C hinese Cypripedium L. (Orchidaceae). International Journal of Plant Sciences 17: 370-381.

Li, J.H., Liu, Z.J., Salazar, G., Bernhardt, P., Perner, H., Tomohisa, Y., Jin, X,H.,. Chung, S.W., Luo, Y.B. 2011. Molecular phylogeny of Cypripedium (Orchidaceae: Cypripedioideae) inferred from multiple nuclear and chloroplast regions. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 61: 3080320.

Ren, ZX., Li, DZ, Bernhardt, P. & Wang, H. 2011. Flowers of Cypripedium fargesii (Orchidaceae) fool flat-footed flies (Platypezidae) by faking fungus-infected foliage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108: 7478-7480