Is This Ancient Flower 2020's Most Beautiful Discovery?


Rachael Funnell

Social Editor and Staff Writer

clockDec 23 2020, 16:26 UTC
Not that it had much to compete with tbh. George Poinar Jr., OSU

Not that it had much to compete with to be honest. George Poinar Jr., OSU

Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) have discovered a dazzling flower locked in Burmese amber, which dates back to the mid-Cretaceous. The flower has remained frozen in time for around 100 million years and is the first of its genus and species to be recognized by science. Its discovery was published in the journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas by researchers from OSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture who named the new flower Valviloculus pleristaminis.

The flower is a member of the angiosperms, a group of plants that reproduce via the fusion of a sperm with an egg that develop from the ovule and the ovary respectively. The ovule develops into a seed and the ovary into a fruit. They have roots, stems, leaves, and a flower which is where the eggs develop. There have been several angiosperms described by specimens locked in Burmese amber, this new species being on the smaller side with a flower width of just two millimeters (0.08 inches). Despite its modest size, it has an astonishing 50 stamens in its flower which are in a spiral arrangement with anthers (which produce pollen) pointing to the sky.

One small flower for scientists, one huge leap for geologists. George Poinar Jr.

"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," said professor and amber specimen expert George Poinar Junior. from the OSU College of Science in a statement. "Despite being so small, the detail still remaining is amazing. Our specimen was probably part of a cluster on the plant that contained many similar flowers, some possibly female."

The tiny new flower has answered big questions about the Earth which have long been debated by geologists. It was first encased in amber back when the supercontinent Gondwana was intact, but a section of it (known as the West Burma Block) broke off and drifted 6437 kilometers (4,000 miles) towards what is now known as Southeast Asia. Exactly when this segment broke off was the cause of debate, with some thinking it was around 200 million years ago while others say 500 million years ago.

It’s widely accepted that angiosperms, such as this flower, first evolved and diversified about 100 million years ago, which tells us that the West Burma Block couldn’t have broken off from Gondwana this time. Poinar states that this proves the date of its departure from the super-continent must be much later than the current estimates suggested by geologists.