Nucleotide polymorphism affecting FLC expression underpins heading date variation in horticultural brassicas.
Variation in flowering time and response to overwintering has been exploited to breed brassica vegetables that can be harvested year-round. Our knowledge of flowering time control now enables investigation of the molecular basis of this important variation. Here, we show that a major determinant of heading date variation in Brassica oleracea is from variation in vernalization response through allelic variation at FLOWERING LOCUS C.C2 (BoFLC4). We characterize two alleles of BoFLC.C2 that are both functional and confer a requirement for vernalization, but they show distinct expression dynamics in response to cold. Complementation experiments in A. thaliana revealed the allelic variation is due to cis polymorphism at BoFLC.C2, which quantitatively influences the degree of cold-induced epigenetic silencing. This results in one allelic variant conferring consistently later heading under both glasshouse and field conditions through reduced environmental sensitivity. Our results suggest that breeding of brassica varieties for commercially valuable variation in heading date has been achieved through selection of cis polymorphism at FLC; similar to that underpinning natural variation in A. thaliana. This understanding will allow selection of alleles with distinct sensitivities to cold and robust heading dates under variable climatic conditions and facilitate breeding of varieties more resistant to climate change. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.