Researchers at the Indiana University Bloomington have recently classified Montsechia vidalii, a long-gone aquatic plant who used to live in the lakes of the mountain ranges of the Iberian Peninsula, as the oldest type of flowering plant ever discovered on earth.
The new findings challenge previous theories that angiospermes were the earliest flowering plants on our planet. A paper on the findings was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on Monday.
Researchers believe that the plant was quite common in the freshwater lakes located in the mountain ranges of Spain. Fossilized traces of the plant were first discovered at the beginning of 20th century in the lime deposits located in the center of the Iberian Peninsula and near the Spanish-French border.
The latest findings suggest that Montsechia vidalii is even older than Archaefructus sinensis, another ancient flower first discovered in China. On the other hand, researchers acknowledged that they cannot tell for sure what plant was the genuine ‘first flower.’
“A ‘first flower’ is technically a myth […],”
explained David Dilcher of IU and lead author of the recent study.
He also asserted that all evidence points out that the new flower is older if not contemporary to its Chinese counterpart. Researchers noted, however, that plant fossils were often mislabeled or misinterpreted over the course of years.
So, the team believes that their interpretation is the most accurate because they base their assumptions on the data gathered on over 1,000 fossils of Montsechia. The fossilized traces were extracted from limestone by pouring hydrochloric acid on every sample. The flowers’ cuticles were also carefully bleached by applying a blend of potassium chlorate and nitric acid.
All samples were analyzed with help of three different optical instruments – an electron microscope, a stereomicroscope, and a light microscope. Researchers however didn’t perform any carbon isotope ratio tests to find the plants’ age. They assumed that the flowers had the age of the specimens found in the same geologic layer.
Researchers think that the plant is contemporary with several dinosaur species including the iguanodon and the brachiosaurus. Unfortunately, the team found no traces of DNA, so a comprehensive analysis couldn’t be conducted in any case.
But the latest analysis found that Montsechia was a flower, though it doesn’t possess the distinctive features of a flowering plant and does not produce pollen to attract insects. Instead, it lived its entire life underwater and it bore fruits that were borne upside down, researchers noted.
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