Researchers attempt to solve the ‘abominable mystery’ of what Earth’s first flowers looked like

Meet the Flower of Flowers which existed on Earth between 140 and 250 million years ago. This is the ‘original’ flower from which all other flowers on Earth arose, and experts managed to reconstruct how it looked like for the first time ever. Flowers are a real mystery, and biologists today argue how the origin and early evolution of flowering plants is one of the greatest enigmas in biology. Charles Darwin best explained it when he said “their rapid rise in the Cretaceous period is ‘an abominable mystery.'”

Shown here is the model of the flower reconstructed by the new study. Image Credit: Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger.

Researchers have analyzed data, containing more than 13,000 floral features to create an approximate model of the ‘first flower on Earth’ in 3D.

According to experts, their models indicate how this ancient flower had both male and female parts, containing multiple whorls of petal-like organs which formed in a set of threes.

According to the IBTimes, the flowering plants constitute around 90% of all plants on Earth. It’s common predecessor existed about 140 million years ago when dinosaurs and other species roamed the Earth.

The study published in the journal Nature Communications has revealed a 3D model that illustrates the appearance of Earth’s first flower, which had at least 10 petals with smooth curves, reminiscent of a water lily.

Water lily via Pixabay

Experts say that around 20 percent of flowers today have similar “trimerous” whorls. Lillies have two while magnolias three.

Magnolia fruit via Pixabay
Magnolia via Pixabay

And while some may draw parallels to flowers on Earth today, the flower of flowers—which existed over 140 million years ago is unlike anything we have today.

Lead author of the study, Hervé Sauquet, an evolutionary biologist from Paris-Sud University says it’s difficult to compare:

“Nearly all flowering plants on Earth have evolved and changed since that ancestor, and that’s how evolution works,” he said.

“So there is not a single species or group of species that would have existed some long time ago and still exists today unchanged.”

In order to discover the ‘mother of all flowers,’ scientists constructed an evolutionary try where they interlaced all living species of flowers—based on genetic data gathered from 792 different species.

Flowers have always been a mystery, and biologists today believe how the origin and early evolution of flowering plants is one of the greatest enigmas in biology, and as Charles Darwin said, their rapid rise in the Cretaceous period is “an abominable mystery.”

This plant is believed to be the ancestor of Magnolia. Hervé Sauquet & Jürg Schönenberger

The discovery changes the history of flowers.

“This data calls into question much of what has been believed and taught previously about floral evolution,” said study co-author Juerg Schoenenberger of the University of Vienna. “It has long been thought that the ancestral flower had all organs arranged in a spiral.”

“The results are extremely exciting! This is the first time that we have a clear vision for the early evolution of flowers,” said co-author of the study Maria von Balthazar, from the University of Vienna.

It’s hard to completely understand flowers from a biological aspect as no flower fossils exist that date back 140 million years ago, which means that our fossil record of flowering plants is very much incomplete.

Scientists have not been able to recover fossil flowers which date back as the group itself.

Furthermore, experts are yet to figure out where the original flower—from 140 million years ago—came from.

Professor Sauquet remarked:

“we’re not sure, and that remains one of the greatest mysteries in plant science. We know it originated deep down from a common ancestor with all gymnosperms (conifers, cycads, ginkgo), maybe 310 million years ago.”

“But we don’t know yet what that ancestor looked like, nor what happened in between these two ancestors, a period of time some of us like to refer to as a ‘dark tunnel,'” Sauquet said.

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(H/ The Conversation)

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