Serotiny is a mechanism for storing propagules on plants, so that seed dispersal can be maximised after the death of aerial parts of plants or to take advantage of conditions beneficial to establishment. In fire-prone vegetation, regeneration of new plants after fire is mostly from seeds that are stored in the soil or on the plant. These traits are generally consistent within a genus. However, in Conospermum, a genus of shrubs that mostly occur in fire-prone vegetation and in which most species have soil-stored seeds, two species exhibit an unusual serotinous structure. We examined the morphology and anatomy of inflorescences and infructescences of C. capitatum and C. petiolare that were collected from natural vegetation in south-western Western Australia. Inflorescence and infructescence axes were sectioned and examined microscopically, fresh infructescences were heated in an oven to various temperatures for 2 min and the fruits from them sown in a germination trial. Some fruits were also treated with smoke chemicals. Both species have a low, dense growth form and retain the seed-like fruits in a serotinous structure formed by enlargement of the cortical cells of the inflorescence axis after flowering. The fruits can be effectively released from the plant only if the foliage is removed by a fire. For both species, the infructescence protects the fruits from heat up to 200°C for 2 min and this is similar to protection afforded by woody cones in other serotinous species. C. capitatum requires either heat or smoke to cue germination, whereas C. petiolare requires no cue, as is found in most other serotinous species. A combination of morphological modification associated with allometry of the whole plant body and physiological changes to germination requirements shows that a series of complex changes may be needed to develop serotiny from non-serotinous antecedents. Journal compilation © CSIRO 2014.