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Flower Evolution

by Brian Nisbet on June 1st

Plants evolved methods of protection to deal with drying out and other abuse. The protection became the seed, though it had not yet evolved the flower.

Early seed-bearing plants include the ginkgo and conifers. The earliest fossil of a flowering plant, Archaefructus liaoningensis, is dated approximately 125 million years old. Several groups of extinct gymnosperms, have been proposed as the ancestors of flowering plants but there is no fossil evidence showing exactly how flowers evolved.

The sudden appearance of fairly modern flowers in the fossil record posed such a problem for the theory of evolution. The general assumption is that the function of flowers, from the start, was to involve other animals in the reproduction process.

Pollen can be scattered without bright colours and obvious shapes, which would therefore be a liability, using the plant's resources, unless they provide some other benefit. One proposed reason for the sudden, fully developed appearance of flowers is that they evolved in an isolated setting like an island, or chain of islands, where the plants bearing them were able to develop a highly specialised relationship with some specific animal, the way many island species develop today. While there is only hard proof of such flowers existing about 130 million years ago, there is some evidence that they did exist up to 250 million years ago.

Flower evolution continues to the present day and modern flowers have been extremely influenced by humans that many of them cannot be pollinated in nature. Many modern, domesticated flowers used to be weeds, which only sprouted when the ground was disturbed. Some of them used to grow with human crops, and the prettiest did not get plucked because of their beauty, developing a dependence upon and special adaptation to human affection.

Tags: flowers, fossil, evolution

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