P. Hochuli and S. Feist-Burkhardt. Frontiers in Plant Science (1 October 2013)

ScienceShot: (Very) Early Bloomers

Kelly is a staff writer at Science.

Could the early dinosaurs and ancestral crocodiles of the Triassic period stop and smell the flowers? Six fossilized pollen grains found in northern Switzerland suggest they could. The earliest appearance of flowering, fruiting plants, known as angiosperms, is still under debate: Many estimates place their origins in the early Cretaceous period—about 140 million years ago—but there have been controversial claims of even earlier examples. The newly discovered grains, stuck inside silty core samples about 900 meters deep, are roughly 240 million years old and bear the key features of known angiosperm fossils, the researchers report online today in Frontiers in Plant Science. Seen through a laser scanning microscope that reveals 3D structure, the tiny objects (shown) sport perforated outer walls with a single furrow, reminiscent of ancestral angiosperms. But pushing the origin of flowering plants into the Middle Triassic period presents a new puzzle: explaining a 100-million-year gap in the fossil record.

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Posted in Plants & Animals