By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A newly discovered flower species dates back 100 million years, Oregon State University reported. The new species has been preserved in amber all these years and was identified by Oregon State University researchers. The mid-Cretaceous was a big time for floral spread.
According to Oregon State University, an exciting floral discovery had arrived just in time for the holidays. “Oregon State University researchers have identified a spectacular new genus and species of flower from the mid-Cretaceous period, a male specimen whose sunburst-like reach for the heavens was frozen in time by Burmese amber,” the article said.
“The new discovery has an egg-shaped, hollow floral cup—the part of the flower from which the stamens emanate; an outer layer consisting of six petal-like components known as tepals; and two-chamber anthers, with pollen sacs that split open via laterally hinged valves.”
At the time the flower blossomed—100 million years ago—fascinating things were happening on the surface of the Earth regarding the proliferation of flower species.
Plant Life in the Mid-Cretaceous
“Around 100 million years ago during the mid-Cretaceous, there was a great radiation in angiosperm diversity initially noted in the fossil record by angiosperm leaf and pollen remains,” said Dr. Stuart Sutherland, Professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia. “By the late Cretaceous, flowering plants started to take over environments that were formerly dominated by ferns, cycads, Bennettittales, and other gymnosperms.
“If you could travel to the late Cretaceous, you would be able to view dinosaurs wandering around plants that you would recognize today such as beech, maple, and magnolia.”
Dr. Sutherland said there’s still some confusion among the anthropological community regarding how angiosperms replaced gymnosperms around this time. On one hand, if the lay of the land were competitive, the angiosperms’ short life cycle and rapid growth “were able to muscle in” and replace gymnosperms. On the other hand, anthropologists have evidence of a major extinction at the end of the Triassic period that send many gymnosperm lineages to extinction.
What else was happening at this time on Earth?
Life in Pangaea
Life on Earth 125 million years ago was incredibly different than it was at the dawn of humanity.
“The supercontinent of Pangaea had started to fragment, but there were still large continental blocks with Gondwana to the south and Laurasia to the north,” Dr. Sutherland said. “It is likely that the interiors of these continents would be pretty dry and arid, environments that are particularly favorable to angiosperms, providing them with large areas of the landscape where they could spread and diversify.
“The innovations that some of the angiosperms evolved included leathery leaves adapted to prevent water loss, a more efficient water conduction system, and a tough drought-resistant seed that would stop an embryo from drying out.”
Angiosperms also have the ability to propagate and reproduce very rapidly, Dr. Sutherland said. Additionally, the mid-Cretaceous was a period of intense warming, likely related to the rapid fragmentation of Pangaea and the associated generation of ocean crust and carbon dioxide production. This would have added to drought conditions, producing an environment more favorable to angiosperms.
This tumultuous time in the Earth’s history was ripe for changing conditions like those believed to have leaned towards flowering plants’ proliferation.
Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
Dr. Stuart Sutherland contributed to this article. Dr. Sutherland is a Professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at The University of British Columbia (UBC). Raised in the United Kingdom, he earned an undergraduate degree in geology from the University of Plymouth and a PhD in Geological Sciences from the University of Leicester for his studies on Silurian microfossils called chitinozoa.