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Chinese And US Scientists Identify The World's Oldest Flowering Plant

GAINESVILLE --- On the floor of a steamy Asian forest, a woody plant destined for immortality was thriving among the dragonflies and dinosaurs when a nearby volcano erupted and left it buried in ash. Some 140 million years later, Chinese and American researchers have retrieved the fossilized remains of that scrap of vegetation and given it a label sure to get the attention of botanists and plant lovers everywhere.

"This is the world's oldest flowering plant," said David Dilcher, a graduate research professor at the University of Florida.

In a paper to be published Friday (11/27) as the cover story of the journal Science, Dilcher and Sun Ge, vice director of the Institute of Geology and Paleontology at the Academia Sinica in Nanjing, China, lay out the evidence of the ancient plant. The find, Sun and Dilcher say, predates the previous oldest-known flower by more than 25 million years. "We're finding, back into the Jurassic, the roots of flowering plants, which demonstrates that a line of plants related to the magnolia ... is a very early part of plant ancestry," said Dilcher, who works at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF. "It gives hope to other investigators to search in this age sediment for evidence of early flowers"

William L. Crepet, chairman of the L.H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, has written a piece for Science that will accompany Sun's and Dilcher's. "As more characters become known from additional fossil discoveries," Crepet said, "this fossil may help us to understand the relationships among existing species -- a major problem about which there is considerable controversy. These are major evolutionary questions."

The plant is nothing on the order of present-day magnolias or chrysanthemums, though, because it had no petals. It is a flower by scientific definition, it had carpels, or leaf-like pods that opened to release seeds. Non-flowering plants have no such structures. "It's what we would call a pre-
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Contact: Steve Orlando
sfo@ufl.edu
352-392-0186
University of Florida
26-Nov-1998


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