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UF expert: ancient fossil suggests flowers may be underwater gift

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The worlds oldest known flower never bloomed, but it has opened scientific questioning into whether all of todays flowering plants had their origins from beneath ancient waters, says a University of Florida researcher.

The newly discovered remains of the oldest, most complete flowering plant show it lived at least 125 million years ago and likely was an underwater plant, said David Dilcher, a UF paleobotanist who studied the flower. The discovery is reported in Fridays issue of the journal Science.

Although it had no petals, there is no question it was a flowering plant because of the presence of seeds enclosed in an immature fruit, a trait separating flowering plants from all other seed plants, he said.

The discovery is important because it provides clues about how these now-extinct ancestors evolved into modern living flowering plants, said Dilcher, whose research is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Flowering plants are the dominant vegetation in the world today, he said. Theyre the basic food crop and fiber source for the worlds population. Its useful for us to understand the relationships among flowering plants, especially in this day of molecular genetic manipulations.

When you sit down in the morning and have a bowl of Wheaties or cornflakes, thats a flowering plant, he said. When you eat a beef steak, thats from an animal that ate flowering plants. So, when we study this fossil, were looking at the ancestry of what sustains us in the world today.

The plant was about 20 inches high with thin stems stretching up in the water to the surface with its pollen and seed organs extending above the water, Dilcher said.

The seeds probably dispersed in the water and floated up along the shore and germinated in shallow water, he said.

The mysteries of the origin and radiation of the flowering plants remain among the greatest dilemmas facing paleontology
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Contact: David Dilcher
dilcher@flmnh.ufl.edu
352-392-1721
University of Florida
2-May-2002


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