A rare flower is finally getting its moment in the sun, nearly 100 million years after it has blossomed.
Researchers at Oregon State University have identified a new species of angiosperm, or flowering plant, from the Cretaceous period that has been preserved in an amber fragment found in what is now Myanmar.
Nicknamed Valviloculus pleristaminis, it belongs to the laurel family and is related to the black-hearted sassafras found in Australia.
Myanmar and Australia are divided by more than 4,000 miles of ocean but, at the time this flower was covered in resin, they were part of a supercontinent known as Gondwanaland.
The discovery of V. pleristaminis suggests that the continental plate on which it stood was separated from the Gondwanal and much later than previously theorized.
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USO researchers have discovered Valviloculus pleristaminis, a new species and a new genus, trapped in amber since 100 million years ago. The tiny male flower has dozens of spirally arranged stamens with their pollen-producing heads facing the sky
“This isn’t quite a Christmas flower, but it’s a beauty, especially considering it was part of a forest that existed nearly 100 million years ago,” said George Poinar Jr., a paleontologist in the OSU Department of Integrative Biology. .
“The male flower is tiny, about 2 millimeters wide, but has about 50 spirally arranged stamens, with the anthers facing the sky.”
The stamen is the part of the male flower that produces pollen, while the anther is the pollen-producing head of the stamen.
“Despite being so small, the details that remain are amazing,” said Poinar, author of a report on the discovery in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.
The flower blossomed in the ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland and was encased in amber, Poinar theorises, before taking a ride on a continental plate known as the Western Burma Lock as it slowly moved 4,000 miles away.
USO paleontologist George Poinar Jr holds a piece of amber in his hand. The work of the world-renowned expert in analyzing plants and animals found in prehistoric substance inspired Michael Crichton to write Jurassic Park.
He and his colleagues at the USO and the Department of Agriculture called the flower – which is both a new genus and a new species – Valviloculus pleristaminis.
Valva is the Latin term for the leaf on a folding door, loculus means “compartment”, plerus refers to “many” and staminis reflects the flower’s dozen male sex organs.
The specimen was probably part of a cluster on a plant with similar flowers, Poinar added, “some possibly female”.
WHAT IS AMBER?
Amber has been used in jewelry for thousands of years and is often found to contain remarkably well-preserved materials from past eras.
The translucent substance of golden color is formed when the resin of the extinct conifers has hardened and fossilized.
Insects, plants, pollen and other material have become trapped in the resin, causing them to be buried inside for millions of years.
In addition to its beauty, the fossilized flower is noteworthy for the journey it took: it blossomed in the ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland and was wrapped in amber before hitchhiking to a continental plate known as the West Burma Block.
That plate moved slowly from Australia to Southeast Asia, a journey of 4,000 miles.
There is an ongoing debate over when the blockade of Western Burma broke away from Gondwanaland, which eventually shattered into Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Indian subcontinent, and the Arabian Peninsula.
Some geologists have set the date at 500 million years ago, while others theorize it was closer to 200 million years ago.
But, according to Poinar, angiosperms only evolved and diversified about 100 million years ago.
This means that the blockade of western Burma could not have ended before then, he said, “which is much later than the dates that were suggested.”
Poinar is a world-renowned expert in the analysis of plants and animals found in amber: his work inspired Michael Crichton to write Jurassic Park.
In 2013, Poinar discovered a piece of amber with the oldest evidence of sexual reproduction in a flowering plant, a cluster of 18 tiny flowers from the Cretaceous period.
Freeze-frame moment in time includes microscopic tubes that grow from pollen grains and penetrate the stigma, part of the flower’s female reproductive system.