When plants evolved on Earth, the first to colonize the land were ferns and conifers. Later, about 140 million years ago, the first flower evolved. That single mutation was so successful that, today, over 90 percent of all land plants have sexual reproductive parts known as flowers. After a massive study of modern day plants, an examination of flower DNA, and an intense search of the fossil record, scientists believe they have modeled the first ever bloom.
The First Flower, the Single Ancestor
The plant that evolved into being the first flower is now the singular ancestor of all modern, flower-bearing plants. That evolutionary adaptation was so successful, it came to dominate land and even parts of the ocean. This includes everything from lilies and roses to fruit trees and grasses.
“There is no living flower that looks exactly like the ancestral one – and why should there be?” said Hervé Sauquet, one of the authors of the paper and a botanist with the University of Paris-Sud. “This is a flower that existed at least 140 million years ago and has had considerable time to evolve into the incredible diversity of flowers that exist today.”
One of the major difficulties in this search is that there are so few fossils from the appropriate era. The delicacy of the first flowering plants combined with the geologic time scale makes them extremely rare finds.
Part of the examination was to determine if that first flower was bisexual, meaning if it had both male and female reproductive organs. The initial modeling, which used the largest data set ever of modern flower features, predicts that the first ever bloom was likely bisexual, and sexed flowers evolved later in the timeline. Following angiosperms (or plants that produce flowers) also started diversifying their shapes, sizes, colors, even their smell.
Many consider that the first bloom itself looks much like a primitive lotus, with petals and organs in whorls instead of spirals. The search for more detail continues but current study results can be accessed in the journal Nature Communications.
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