Get an Amazing Glimpse at the Earliest Angiosperms–or Flowering Plants–That Birthed All Flower Bouquets to Come

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Go back to about one hundred and fifty million years ago, when all the flower displays we see and know, that today we love to give and receive as gifts, were not so much as a twinkling in the eye of the universe. Not the fancy floral arrangements in restaurants and hotel lobbies, but flowers out in the wild.

In forests and meadows and peeking out from the hedges.

None of those. Not one.

And back then there were no hedges, either.

But fast forward a mere 10 million years, and the first flower petals on the planet Earth appeared. They popped up and were so successful as lifeforms that they spread around the globe.

Today, nearly 140 million years later, we see that first flower’s descendants: the diverse flora and fauna with such colour, great beauty and nuance of texture and perfume–everything that makes flowers so incredible.

Incredibly, scientists now know what that very first flower looked like. Using data processing and computer models to reconstruct the evolution of flowers–essentially, reverse engineering their evolution–we can sneak a look at what the progenitor of every flower that’s around today once looked like.

It was bisexual, meaning it had both male (stamen) and female (carpels) reproductive parts in just a single plant. Imagine that! And it also looked remotely like a water lily.

That is, the original angiosperm (a fancier word for “flowering plant”) had wide petals spreading outward and encircling a spiky stamen structure, sticking up and out from the centre. The stamen is the reproductive organ on the plant that produces its pollen, which is then spread by wind and bee and other insects, and…well, you know the rest.

The scientists responsible for the discovery included their findings and reproductions of flowers photographs in their study, published in the British journal Nature Communications.

Of course flower species have undergone drastic, dramatic changes since the first of their kind popped up from the soil, mud, muck, water, or whatever else was around back then. To illustrate this point, the reconstructed Methuselah flower species has a bunch of whorl petal-like structures that are only seen in about 20 percent of flowering plant species today.

Adding to the excitement surrounding this discovery is the fact there actually aren’t any fossils from the time period in which this flower “flowered” for the first time upon the Earth. The record for flower paleontology–in case you were wondering–goes back 130 million years ago.

So while this leaves something of a gap (Oh, just another ten million years or so…), and not all scientists are in agreement about the data used in reaching the study’s conclusions, the study does still represent an advancement in our understanding of plant biology and evolution of all flowers.

It is a fascinating subject. Reaching further and further into the past, we can begin to better understand biodiversity across many ecosystems within the plant kingdom; as well as link together the numerous and onerous steps that early life took–and the leaps and stumbles and, perhaps, in not a few cases, all of the luck involved.  

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