Montsechia vidalii is a 130-million-year-old plant, and scientists say it’s the oldest flower on Earth.
Led by Indiana University’s David Dilcher, a team painstakingly studied the fossilized remains of the world’s “first flower” by carefully dissolving the limestone around it, and then bleaching the fragments to make for better microscope probing. Their findings were published in a recent edition of PNAS.
The specimen is from central Spain and is believed to have grown beneath the surface of shallow bodies of water. Montsechia vidalii doesn’t appear to have roots or petals, and contained a single seed in each of its tiny flowers. Animals in the Cretaceous time period didn’t play a role in seed dispersal, so it would make sense for Montsechia vidalii to have evolved so that it could release seeds right into the water, where they could make their way to other plants for fertilization. It likely had distinct male and female flowers.
Aside from being an incredible artifact of ancient botany, the flower is a valuable tool in understanding our own evolution, says Dilcher. Scientists believe a portion of the human genome could have come from plant life.
Studying the flower could also help shed light on the pollination process, an especially important issue as bee populations in the United States and Europe continue to decline.
According to Dilcher, “This plant shows us where it all began. If we know more about their evolution, we might come across alternative pollinators that are hidden out of sight today but played a role in the past that we could encourage again.”