CORVALLIS, Ore. — Looks like Christmas has come early this year, or depending on how you look at it, about 100 million years too late. Researchers at Oregon State University have announced the discovery of an ancient, yet absolutely beautiful genus and species of flower dating all the way back to the mid-Cretaceous period. All those years ago, this male specimen was frozen and preserved by Burmese amber.
“This isn’t quite a Christmas flower but it is a beauty, especially considering it was part of a forest that existed 100 million years ago,” says George Poinar Jr., professor emeritus in the OSU College of Science, in a university release. “The male flower is tiny, about 2 millimeters across, but it has some 50 stamens arranged like a spiral, with anthers pointing toward the sky.”
‘Amazing’ details remain centuries later
Professor Poinar is considered one of the foremost experts on plants and animals preserved in ancient amber and what these specimens can tell scientists about the distant past.
“Despite being so small, the detail still remaining is amazing,” he adds. “Our specimen was probably part of a cluster on the plant that contained many similar flowers, some possibly female.”
Egg-shaped with a hollow floral cup, the flower boasts an outer layer complete with six “petal-like” parts called tepals.
After corresponding with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the team at OSU decided to formally name the ancient flower Valviloculus pleristaminis. Valva is Latin for the leaf on a folding door, loculus can be translated as “compartment,” plerus means “many,” and staminis is a reference to the flower’s numerous male sex organs.
Where did this ancient flower come from?
Researchers believe the flower specimen found its way into a chunk of amber on the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. From there, it “rafted on a continental plate” for 4,000 miles all the way from Australia to Southeast Asia.
Geologists aren’t quite sure when this portion of Gondwana, called the West Burma Block, broke away from the ancient supercontinent. Many say it occurred roughly 100 million years ago, but others say it may have been as long as 500 million years ago.
Valviloculus pleristaminis is of the angiosperm variety, meaning it is a vascular plant including leaves, roots, and stems. they also contain fertilized eggs that develop within the flower itself. Scientists generally agree that angiosperms didn’t appear at all until roughly 100 million years ago. This makes a compelling argument that the West Burma Block couldn’t have separated from Gondwana before that time frame.
The study is published in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.