Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it disappears. Valviloculus pleristaminis makes a perfect example.
Scientists have only recently identified this mysterious, extinct flower. It once flourished in the Cretaceous period – a floral relic of the last century, preserved in amber that stops time from some nameless day when dinosaurs were still roaming the Earth.
“This isn’t exactly a Christmas flower, but it’s a beauty, especially considering it’s part of a forest that existed 100 million years ago,” says Emeritus Professor George Poinar Jr. of Oregon State University.
Poinar Jr. is something of an authority on the possibility of amber time capsules.
An octogenarian entomologist is widely regarded as a scientist who popularized the phenomenon of prehistoric insects and nematodes trapped in wood resin over a geological time scale – ideas that took off, literally most of the time, in the fantasy of pop culture. Jurassic Park.
This life focus began decades ago, but the academic success of Poinar Jr. is still amazing. In recent years, he has described ancient, annoyed ticks, discovered new orders of insect life, discovered the origins of malaria, and discovered a fair share of forgotten flowers.
V. pleristaminis, which represents a new genus and type of flower, is among the newest in this ever-expanding bouquet.
“The male flower is tiny, about 2 millimeters in diameter, but it has about 50 anthers arranged like a spiral, with anthers directed towards the sky,” Poinar explains.
“Even though they’re so small, the details that still remain are amazing. Our specimen was probably part of a cluster on a plant that contained many similar flowers, some of which may be female.”
The specimen in question was obtained from an amber mine in Myanmar, because it was preserved in marine sedimentary deposits dating back to the middle of the Cretaceous, approximately 99 million years ago.
According to researchers, V. pleristaminis, an example of an angiosperm (flowering plant), probably belongs to the order Laurales, especially similar to the families Monimiaceae and Atherospermataceae.
But this strange, extinct flower offers more than just clues to the history of floral evolution.
According to Poinar Jr., V. pleristaminis and other Burmese amber fossils of angiosperms like them can also help solve an extraordinary mystery about the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana from which these plants first originated.
In particular, V. pleristaminis it would once flourish in a part of Gondwana called the Western Burmese Bloc, which at some unknown point in history separated from the rest of the supercontinent.
Quite when it is a matter of some debate, with some geological hypotheses, the date of separation dates back as far as 500 million years ago.
Research by Poinar Jr. suggests that the West Burmese bloc could not have rafted from Gondwana to Asia before the early Cretaceous, given that angiosperms only evolved and diversified about 100 million years ago.
The debate is unlikely to end soon, however V. pleristaminis and its amber-coated color provide a fresh line of thought on the subject – a full secret waiting to be discovered for nearly 100 million years.
“Going out with [the West Burma Block] “Tectonic migration from Gondwana has not yet been firmly established, but the 100-year-old amber age, including fossils of plants and animals of animal origin in the southern hemisphere, may affect the final solution to this problem,” the researchers write.
The findings are reported in Journal of the Texas Botanical Research Institute.