Paleobotanists have discovered what may be the Earth’s very first flowering plant, adding to a growing volume of information on the origin of all plant life. The Montsechia vidalii plant was first found in mountainous regions of Spain over 100 years ago, yet now has provided researchers with new information. Estimated to be between 125 and 130 million years old, the aquatic plant once flourished in the region when it was covered in freshwater lakes.
David Dilcher, paleobotanist and professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Geological Sciences at Indiana University, wrote about the developments in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He states, “This discovery raises significant questions about the early evolutionary history of flowering plants, as well as the role of these plants in the evolution of other plant and animal life.”
Dilcher also describes how the epithet “first flower” is a simplification of how biology works, though the Montsechia predates what was previously thought to hold the title, the Archaefructus sinensis plant. Both specimens are consider “angiosperms,” or flowering plants, yet the fossil itself does not look like what one might imagine. There are no petals or nectar, because the plants are aquatic, yet the presence of a single seed qualifies the plant for this category.
The Montsechia vidalii likely existed in the Barremian age of the early Cretaceous period, which means they lived in the same age as the brachiosaurus and iguanodon. The relic plant is an ancestor to the modern day Ceratophyllum (pictured above), also known as coontails or hornworts, which can be found in aquariums as a lush green playground for fish and other creatures. Dilcher says, “There’s still much to be discovered about how a few early species of seed-bearing plants eventually gave rise to the enormous, and beautiful, variety of flowers that now populate nearly every environment on Earth.”
Images via David Dilcher, Flickr