Frozen in time: World’s oldest lily found in Brazil grew 115 million years ago and has a fossilised flower and intact cells
- The fossil plant was unearthed in a quarry in the city of Crato in northeast Brazil
- It is very well preserved and still contains roots, a flower and individual cells
- Experts used CT scans to peer inside the rock and examine the fossil’s details
- The fossil has been identified as a monocotyledon, like modern lilies and orchids
The world’s oldest preserved lily has been unearthed from a stone quarry in Brazil and dates back to around 115 million years ago.
The fossil is exceptionally well-preserved — and includes the plant’s roots, a flower and even individual cells.
It is though to have originally have grown along the banks of a freshwater lake in what is today the city of Crato in northeastern Brazil.
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The world’s oldest preserved lily which dates back to around 115 million years ago has been unearthed from a stone quarry in Brazil
Flowering plantS, known as angiosperms, first appeared 140 million years ago and flourished around the world, becoming more common than many other types of plant.
Today, there are more than 350,000 different species of angiosperm, and this fossil — which has been named Cratolirion bognerianum — is among the first to ever evolve.
They also survived the mass extinction event 66 million years ago which wiped out vast amounts of life on Earth, including the dinosaurs.
It was discovered by botanist Clement Coiffard in the collections of the Museum für Naturkunde, in Berlin, with whom he is affiliated.
‘The fossil material described here is from the Crato plattenkalk limestone, said Dr Coiffard.
He added that it came ‘from open-air pit quarries in the area of Santana do Cariri in the state of Ceará, northeast Brazil, where the stone is mined for construction purposes.’
The specimen is one of what are known as monocotyledonous plants, among whose number are lilies, lilies of the valley, orchids and sweet grasses.
‘It is probable that flowering plants originated in the tropics, but only very few fossils have been described to date,’ said Dr Coiffard.
‘From this newly described plant, Cratolirion bognerianum, and other species of Crato flora, it can be deduced that the tropical flowering plants were already very diverse.’
‘This study thus provides new insights into the role of the tropics in the development of early flowering plants and their rise to global supremacy.’
The researchers used CT scans to study the flat fossil without damaging it — peering inside the stone to examine the leaves, petals and reproductive pistils
Among Dr Coiffard’s team was physicist Nikolay Kardjilov, who is an expert in using X-rays and neutrons to perform three-dimensional analyses.
The researchers used CT scans to study the flat fossil without damaging it — peering inside the stone to examine the leaves, petals and reproductive pistils.
With a length of almost 16 inches (40 centimetres), the specimen is not only large, but also shows many typical characteristics of this type of plant.
These include its parallel veins, narrow leaves with a sheath, a fibrous root system and triple flowers.
The fossil of the ancient lily is exceptionally well-preserved — and includes the plant’s roots, a flower and even individual cells
In contrast with other flowering plants of the same age from Argentina, China, Portugal and the US, those of the Crato-Flora are unusually diverse.
This could be due to the fact that Lake Crato was in the lower latitudes, while all other fossils of early flowering plants came from the middle latitudes.
‘With an age of about 115 million years, Cratolirion is one of the oldest known,’ said Dr Coiffard.
‘The good preservation of the fossils allowed the evaluation of reproductive, vegetative and anatomical characteristics of monocots, leading to a robust identification of this fossil as a crown monocot.’
The fossil flower would originally have grown along the banks of a freshwater lake in what is today the city of Crato in northeastern Brazil. Pictured, a modern-day lily
There are other possible explanations for why monocotyledonous plants have such a poor fossil record, Dr Coiffard explained.
‘Because they are fundamentally herbaceous, their leaves are not generally shed in large numbers and instead remain attached to the parent plant, thus reducing the probability of fossilisation,’ he said.
Other plants such as water lilies, aron rods, drought-resistant magnolias and relatives of pepper and laurel have also been found at the site.
The flower would originally have grown along the banks of a freshwater lake in what is today the city of Crato in northeastern Brazil
WHAT IS AN ANGIOSPERM?
Angiosperm is the scientific term for flowering plants.
There are believed to be well over 350,000 species of angiosperm and there is a huge diversity among the species’.
Angiosperms are a phylum which encompass over 400 families and 350,00 species of plant, all of which have similar characteristics.
Before the emergence of angiosperms, gymnosperms and ferns were the dominant groups of plants, but angiosperms quickly established themselves as the most successful group within the plant kingdom.
Gymnosperms evolved before flowers and were around in the time of dinosaurs. They produce seeds as well as tiny drops of high-energy liquid.
Ferns do not have flowers and have a more primitive form of reproduction that angiosperms and gymnosperms
The researchers found that the reason for the dominance of flowers (left) compared to gymnosperms (middle) and ferns (right) was down to increased venation and smaller specialist cells, called stomata
The cause of the huge diversity of flowers has often be attributed to the co-evolution with animals and plants which aided in reproduction.
Research from San Francisco State University has found that the stomata – cells which control gas exchange in plants – are much smaller in angiosperms than any other types of plants.
Angiosperms have more venation than other types of plants and this encourages greater rates of transpiration (water transfer), photosynthesis, and growth.
Flowering plants were the only type of plants that underwent rapid genome downsizing during the early Cretaceous period which enabled the decrease in cell size.
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