Wenheng Zhang

Primary Investigator 

Associate Professor, Department of Biology

Curator of VCU Herbarium 

Email: wzhang5@vcu.edu


  • Postdoctoral fellow under Drs. Charles Davis and Elena Kramer, Harvard University 2007-2012
  • Ph.D., North Carolina State University 2002-2006
  • M.S., Beijing University 1998-2001
  • B.S., Beijing Medical University 1994-1998

Research Interests

One of the most intriguing questions in biology is how molecular evolution alters developmental programs that shape morphology. I have been pursuing this interest using comparative methods that integrate phylogenetic, molecular, and morphological studies to determine the origin and evolution of novel floral traits in flowering plants within the context of a well-established developmental genetic framework. The work from my lab has also tried to resolve how developmental networks and environmental pressures imposed by insect pollinators shape the evolutionary outcomes. We hope our research will contribute to a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of evolution, particularly as it relates to changes in floral form in response to plant-insect.

Recent Publications

Bukhari, G., Zhang, J., Stevens, P.F., and Zhang, W. 2017. Evolution of the process underlying floral zygomorphy development in pentapetalous angiosperms. American Journal of Botany 104: 1846–1856. doi: 10.3732/ajb.1700229.
Zhang, W., Xiang, Q-Y., and Wen, J. 2017. Evolution, development, and genetics of floral display—form, size, and arrangement. Journal of Systematics and Evolution 55.6: 485-486. doi.org/10.1111/jse.12274
Ma, Q., Zhang, W., and Xiang, Q-Y. 2017. Evolution and developmental genetics of floral display‐a review of progress. Journal of Systematics and Evolution 55 (6).
Zhang, J., Stevens, P. F. and W. Zhang. 2017. Evolution of floral zygomorphy in androecium and corolla in Solanaceae. Journal of Systematics and Evolution 55(6): 581-590. doi:10.1111/jse.12275
Gao, A., Zhang, J., and W. Zhang. 2017. Evolution of RAD-and DIV-Like Genes in Plants. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(9), 1961.
Zhang W., Kramer E.M., and C.C. Davis. 2016. Differential Expression of CYC2 Genes and the Elaboration of Floral Morphologies in Hiptage, an Old World Genus of Malpighiaceae. International Journal of Plant Sciences 177 (7): 551-558.
Zhang, W., V.W. Steinmann, L. Nikolov, E.M. Kramer, and C.C. Davis. 2013. Divergent genetic mechanisms underlie reversals to radial floral symmetry from diverse zygomorphic flowered ancestors. Frontiers in Plant Science 4.
Zhang, W., E.M. Kramer, and C.C. Davis. 2012. Similar genetic mechanisms underlie the parallel evolution of floral phenotypes. Plos One 7(4):e36033.
Zhang, W., E.M. Kramer, and C.C. Davis. 2010. Floral symmetry genes and the origin and maintenance of zygomorphy in a plant-pollinator mutualism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107(14):6388-6393.
Zhang, W., Q-Y. Xiang, D.T. Thomas, B.M. Wiegmann, M.W. Frohlich, and D.E. Soltis. 2008. Molecular evolution of PISTILLATA-like genes in the dogwood genus Cornus (Cornaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 47(1):175-195.
Xiang, Q-Y., J.L. Thorne, T-K. Seo, W. Zhang, D.T. Thomas, and R.E. Ricklefs. 2008. Rates of nucleotide substitution in Cornaceae (Cornales)--Pattern of variation and underlying causal factors. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 49(1):327-342. 
Boufford, D.E., and W. Zhang. 2007. Spiranthes sunii Boufford & Wenheng Zhang, Sp. Nov.; A New Rheophytic Orchid from Gansu Province, China. Harvard Papers in Botany 13(2):261-266.
Zhang, W. 2006. Molecular evolution of floral homeotic B-class genes in the dogwood genus Cornus (Cornaceae): gene duplication, selection, and coevolution (North Carolina State University, Raleigh) p 209.
Xiang,Q-Y., D.T. Thomas, W. Zhang, S.R. Manchester, and Z. Murrell. 2006. Species level phylogeny of the genus Cornus (Cornaceae) based on molecular and morphological evidence - implications for taxonomy and Tertiary intercontinental migration. Taxon 55 (1):9-30.
Xiang, Q-Y., S.R. Manchester, D.T. Thomas, W. Zhang, and C. Fan. 2005. Phylogeny, biogeography, and molecular dating of cornelian cherries (Cornus, Cornaceae): tracking Tertiary plant migration. Evolution 59(8):1685-1700. PM:16329240.
Xiang, Q-Y., W. Zhang, R.E. Ricklefs, H. Qian, Z.D. Chen, J. Wen, and J.L. Hua. 2004. Regional differences in rates of plant speciation and molecular evolution: a comparison between eastern Asia and eastern North America. Evolution 58(10):2175-2184. PM:15568220. 
Zhang, W., Z.D. Chen, J.H. Li, H.B. Chen, and Y.C. Tang. 2003. Phylogeny of the Dipsacales s.l. based on chloroplast trnL-F and ndhF sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 26(2):176-189.
Zhang, W., Z.D. Chen, H.B. Chen, and Y.C. Tang. 2001. Phylogenetic relationship of the disputed genus Triplostegia based on trnL-F sequences. Acta Phytotaxonomica Sinica 39:337-344.