Written by futurity.org Thursday, 07 April 2011 16:07
Scientists from the United States and China have discovered the first intact fossil of a mature eudicot, a type of flowering plant whose membership includes buttercups, apple trees, maple trees, dandelions and proteas. (Credit: Zhiduan Chen)
A 125-million-year-old fossil of an intact eudicot, a flowering plant family that includes buttercups and dandelions, has researchers arguing for an earlier origin of the eudicots—and perhaps flowering plants in general.
“This fossil opens up a new way of thinking about the evolution of some of the first flowering plants,” says Indiana University biologist David Dilcher, a co-author of the paper in Nature. “We are also beginning to understand that the explosive radiation of all flowering plants about 111 million years ago has had a long history that began with the slower diversification of many families of eudicots over 10, perhaps 15 million years earlier.”
Dilcher and his Chinese colleagues Ge Sun and Hongshan Wang (Shenyang Normal University) and Zhiduan Chen (Chinese Academy of Sciences) named the fossilized plant Leefructus mirus in honor of Li Shiming, a non-scientist who donated the fossil to Ge Sun’s new museum of paleontology in Liaoning Province, China. Ge Sun was the project’s principal investigator.
The fossil shows the above-ground portion of a mature plant. A single stem leads to five leaves, and one leads to a fully developed flower. The entire fossil is about 16 cm (6.3 in) tall. Leaves are innervated by branching veins, and the small, cup-shaped flower has five petals.