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First fossil specimens of flowering plants found preserved in amber

In a paper published on Monday in Nature Plants, biologists explained that the flowery discovery was made in a Dominican Republic cave along with a treasure trove of insects, all preserved in amber. 

16 February 2016, 8:27am
Biologists have announced the discovery of the first-ever fossil specimens of flowering plants, possibly 15 million years old, that have been preserved in amber all this time.

The fossil “asterids” are the antecedent to a staggering lineage of over 80,000 species, including the potato, tomatoes, tobacco, coffee, and the deadly poison strychnine.

In a paper published on Monday in Nature Plants, biologists explained that the flowery discovery was made in a Dominican Republic cave along with a treasure trove of insects, all preserved in amber. The discovery, dating back to 1986, yielded 500 fossils and led to decades of research on the fossilized insects, but little attention was paid to the flower until now.

“The specimens are beautiful, perfectly preserved fossil flowers, which at one point in time were borne by plants that lived in a steamy tropical forest with both large and small trees, climbing vines, palms, grasses and other vegetation,” said George Poinar, co-author of the study and professor in the College of Science at Oregon State University. Poinar is one of the world’s experts on plant and animal life forms preserved in amber.

Scientists were able to date the flowers to as early as 15 million years ago only by examining other life forms preserved in the amber.

Asterids were among Earth’s most important and diverse plants, “with 10 orders, 98 families, and about 80,000 species,”according to the biologists. They represent about one-third of all the Earth’s flowering plants.

“Specimens such as this are what give us insights into the ecology of ecosystems in the distant past,” Poinar said. “It shows that the asterids, which later gave humans all types of foods and other products, were already evolving many millions of years ago.”

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