Scientists have suggested that flowers were blooming over 174 million years ago during the Early Jurassic period, which is 50 million years earlier than had been previously thought. Up until now, scientists believed that flowering plants, which are known as angiosperms, only came into existence around 130 million years ago. However, after the surprising discovery of a fossil plant species known as Nanjinganthus dendrostyla, scientists are now rethinking this.
As Phys.org reports, the evolution of plants is now being reconsidered thanks to the wondrous find of the fossilized flower Nanjinganthus dendrostyla. Qiang Fu, the lead author of the new study on when flowers originated and also Associate Research Professor at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology in China, explained that scientists were previously very much in the dark about the arrival of flowers, only really knowing that they arrived on the scene sometime during the Cretaceous Period.
“Researchers were not certain where and how flowers came into existence because it seems that many flowers just popped up in the Cretaceous from nowhere. Studying fossil flowers, especially those from earlier geologic periods, is the only reliable way to get an answer to these questions.”
When it comes to the plant kingdom, angiosperms are incredibly important, with their date of origin and history all part of a very long debate that evolutionary biologists have been discussing for quite some time now. Even though molecular clocks have suggested that flowers must be older than 130 million years of age, up until now there was no actual proof of this, and scientists had no real material to work with.
The new research on the creation of flowers looked at 264 specimens that were taken from 198 different flowers that had been found on 34 slabs of rock in the Nanjing area of China. This particular area is well known for containing many fossils that date back to the Early Jurassic Period, and scientists felt that this would be the perfect location to learn more about how flowering plants came into being.
With such a great wealth of fossil samples to choose from, scientists dissected their chosen samples and then submitted them to microscopy to get a clearer picture of these flowers. By doing this, they were able to rebuild the features of the Early Jurassic Nanjinganthus dendrostyla flower.
Senior author Xin Wang, Research Professor at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, stated that despite the many difficulties scientists experience when study angiosperms, the reconstruction of the ancient Nanjinganthus dendrostyla flower will hopefully shuffle this work forward.
“The origin of angiosperms has long been an academic ‘headache’ for many botanists. Our discovery has moved the botany field forward and will allow a better understanding of angiosperms, which in turn will enhance our ability to efficiently use and look after our planet’s plant-based resources.”
The new study which suggests that flowers existed more than 174 million years ago has been published in eLife.