It seemed like there was no better first post than one about the first flower…
There’s no denying that flowers are beautiful and with so many shapes, sizes and colours it’s no wonder we each have our favourite. For me, it’s a Tulip. But what about the first flower? Because without it we wouldn’t have the amazing variety we have today or any of the millions of other species which rely on them.
The origin of Angiosperms (the flowering plants) is one of the most difficult and unresolved topics in evolutionary biology. However, recent technological advances in this field and fascinating new discoveries have allowed our understanding of the diversification of the flowering plants to grow.
In geological time, flowering plants are considered relatively recent, with the oldest most common ancestor having arisen about 140 million years ago. Scientists have therefore been able to use the fossil record, genetic evidence and comparisons with modern flowering plants, which make up 90% of all living land plants, to create a visual image of what the first flower is likely to have looked like.
To reconstruct the flower, they recorded key features of flowers taken from nearly 800 living species. Making it the largest data set of floral traits ever! It was found to be a radially symmetrical flower composed of petals, sepals and stamens arranged in a pattern of concentric circles, known as a whorl. More modern plants still show the presence of whorls however they have less than this ancestral species.
Confusing variation in floral structure has made it difficult to determine sexual aspects of the plant. By this we mean whether the plant is unisexual or bisexual, as they can be either. This study has provided evidence in favour of the early angiosperms being bisexual, but it still can’t be known for certain.
So, the 350,000 species of Angiosperms that we know of, all arose from this one bisexual, whorling, 140 million year old flower. This one might just be my new favourite…