100 Million-Year-Old Flowers Perfectly Preserved in Amber

Fagjun | Published 2017-08-26 07:11

Image by George O. Poinar, Jr./Kenton L. Chambers



These flowers look like they were freshly picked, experts say, but the flowers have actually been preserved in amber for 100 million years.


A long time ago, in the Cretaceous period, a dinosaur walked by a tree and knocked a handful of tiny flowers from their branches. At least, that's what scientists suppose happened. It was probably a Triceratops or a Tyrannosaurus rex, though it could have also been the wind or something else. In any case, the flowers dropped from their branches and fell into resin deposits on an araucaria tree. Eventually, these resin deposits fossilized into amber, preserving the flowers inside them.


The flowers are just 3.4 to 5 millimeters in diameter, so they're quite small. Researchers had to use a microscope in order to study the flowers and get a better look at their condition.


What the researchers found was remarkable—the flowers were in stunning condition, allowing researchers to glean a significant amount of information.


The Geography Behind Flowers Preserved in Amber

Image by George O. Poinar, Jr./Kenton L. Chambers



Scientists have named the flowers' species Tropidogyne pentaptera, and have determined that the species is part of the Cunoniaceae family. T. pentaptera has “spreading, veiny sepals, a nectar disc, and a ribbed inferior ovary,” says George Poinar Jr, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University.


The Cunoniaceae family has 27 genera, all spread out through the southern hemisphere. T. pentaptera, Poinar says, was probably a rainforest tree. The shape and venation pattern of the flowers preserved in amber also looked a lot like those of the flowers under the Ceratopetalum genus, which pop up in Australia and Papua New Guinea. “One extant species is C. gummiferum,” says Poinar, “which is known as the New South Wales Christmas bush because its five sepals turn bright reddish pink close to Christmas.”


The amber was found in Myanmar, so it's a little puzzling that it has lookalikes over in Australia. The araucaria tree, whose resin encased the flowers, also has relatives in the kauri pines in New Zealand. How, therefore, did these plants have relatives in completely different places?


According to the researchers, the flowers probably fell into the resin and became preserved in amber before the Gondwana supercontinent split apart. It's likely that the flowers had lived in a part of Greater India, which then drifted to southern Asia.

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