PLANTS

Cosmos - - Trapped In Amber -

Con­sid­er­ing that am­ber orig­i­nated from plant sap ex­uded in en­vi­ron­ments where other plants abounded, it has been ob­served that such plants are com­par­a­tively rare in­clu­sions. Luck­ily, there are some breath­tak­ing ex­cep­tions.

Flow­er­ing plants emerged some 99 mil­lion years ago, when Myan­mar am­ber was still sticky tree sap in a trop­i­cal for­est. Sev­eral flow­ers have been pre­served, in­clud­ing one re­mark­able fos­sil of two flow­ers having sex! The male an­ther of one flower can clearly be seen in­serted into the fe­male stigma of an­other.

Flow­ers are the re­pro­duc­tive or­gans of plants and their evo­lu­tion al­lowed for the more ef­fi­cient trans­fer of pollen via agents such as bees and other in­sects. It was the flower-power rev­o­lu­tion that lead to them be­com­ing the dom­i­nant botan­i­cal group in the world today.

Flow­ers have also been re­cov­ered from the much younger Do­mini­can am­ber. One spec­i­men rep­re­sents a group of plants known as the as­ter­ids, which today in­cludes around a third of all flow­er­ing plants, com­pris­ing some 80,000 species, in­clud­ing sun­flow­ers, cof­fee, pep­pers, pota­toes and mint.

This sin­gle fos­silised flower in­di­cates that the as­ter­ids had made it to the New World by around 20 mil­lion years ago. Named Strych­nos elec­tri, it is thought to be closely re­lated to the strych­nine tree. In 2014, a re­port was pub­lished of part of a car­niv­o­rous plant per­fectly pre­served in Baltic am­ber. Its sticky ten­ta­cles closely re­sem­ble those of Roridula, a unique plant now known only to grow in South Africa. The fact that this fos­sil comes from the other end of the Earth in­di­cates that this group once had a much wider dis­tri­bu­tion.

CREDIT: DE AGOS­TINI / GETTY IMAGES

Flow­ers are rare in the am­ber record, but this one, named Strych­nos elec­tri, is thought to be closely re­lated to the strych­nine tree.

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