News / Science & Technology

Flowers' First Bloom Captured in Fossil Record

FILE - Paleo-botanist Peter Hochuli studies push the origin of flowering plants back 100 million years to the early Triassic period 240 million years ago. (A. Ritter/UZH)
FILE - Paleo-botanist Peter Hochuli studies push the origin of flowering plants back 100 million years to the early Triassic period 240 million years ago. (A. Ritter/UZH)
TEXT SIZE - +
Rosanne Skirble
A scientist has been searching for the origin of flowering plants, which evolved to dominate our landscape and define life as we know it. He reports his findings in a new study that pushes back the date of the earliest flower by 100 million years, to a period when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Twenty-five years ago, geologist Peter Hochuli was on an expedition in Norway when he made a discovery in a sediment core - a long round sample of soil or rock - that puzzled him.  

“And there I found first these amazing pollen grains which looked to me like the ones that I knew from the Cretaceous,” he said.

That is the relatively warm geological period 140 million years ago, when dinosaurs dominated the landscape, and scientists believe new groups of mammals and birds, as well as flowering plants, appeared. The problem was that he had dated the core to the Triassic, or 100 million years earlier in earth’s history.
The microscopic features of this ancient pollen grain are similar to those of flowering plants. (Credit: Hochuli/Feist-Burkhardt)The microscopic features of this ancient pollen grain are similar to those of flowering plants. (Credit: Hochuli/Feist-Burkhardt)
x
The microscopic features of this ancient pollen grain are similar to those of flowering plants. (Credit: Hochuli/Feist-Burkhardt)
The microscopic features of this ancient pollen grain are similar to those of flowering plants. (Credit: Hochuli/Feist-Burkhardt)


“But for many of my colleagues, it didn’t fit the picture that these pollen are occurring in the middle Triassic. So I thought they were contaminants, and I suspected that they came from the lab. In the lab they also prepared Cretaceous sediments. So I also thought they made kind of a mess,” said Hochuli.

But he does not think so anymore. Now a paleo-botanist at the University of Zurich, Hochuli has focused his research on finding the origin of flowering plants, which evolved from extinct plants related to today’s conifers, seed ferns and pollen.

Hochuli works with organic fossils, those leaves, woody particles, spores and pollen extracted from sediment cores. His new study in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science describes pollen extracted from sediment cores in Switzerland. Interestingly, the date is consistent with his earlier suspicions more than two decades ago.

“I think that it is the direct line in the evolution of flowering plants. We are sure that the assemblages of the pollen and spores we found, they are about 240 million years old,” said said Hochuli.

LISTEN: Flowers' First Bloom
Flowers' First Bloomi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

The finding extends the uninterrupted sequence of fossilized pollen from flowers by 100 million years. Hochuli said his previous study in 2004 documented different, but clearly related, flowering plant-like pollen from the Barents Sea, some 3,000 kilometers away.  

“And I think they are more widespread and more common than we originally thought. Originally we thought that this Barents Sea area would be kind of the cradle of the flowering plant evolution, but that is certainly not the case,” said Hochuli.

Charles Darwin described the origin of plants as an “abominable mystery,” because they appeared to spread across the earth in such a relatively short time. While Hochuli’s work pushes the date back, he said gaps remain and the record is spotty.

“I’m searching for the roots. I’m searching for a group of plants, which are at the base of the flowering plants,” he said.

Hochuli said more fossil evidence is needed to confirm his findings, a task he committed his life to find.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid