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Discovery Of 130 Million-Year-Old Fossil Suggests Earth's First Flowering Plants Were Rather Plain

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The most ancient known flowering plant on earth wasn't very pretty by today's standards.

A team of scientists analyzed fossilized specimens discovered a century ago in Spanish lakes, and determined they were likely the oldest flowering plants on earth.

Montsecia vidalii is an aquatic plant, and looks rather plain -- more weed-like than floral. The plants are estimated to have lived more than 130 million years ago, during the Cretacious period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

The findings were published in the August edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

David Dilcher, a paleobotanist at Indiana University who analyzed the plant told NPR "there were not many flowering plants at that time."

Dilcher prefers to call it the "oldest submerged aquatic plant that we have any fossil record of," instead of a flower.

He says the concept of flowers is really a "poetic concept."

Montsecia vidalii had no petals or fragrance, produced no nectar, and had none of the allure of the flowers on earth today. But it had a seed, one of the main characteristics of angiosperms.

And, like modern flowers, the ancient Montsecia also had a system of pollination. It didn't require insects. It worked underwater, "using water currents in the lakes to disperse their pollen to female flowers." Perhaps there lies the depth of its true beauty.

While it's not the most attractive specimen, researchers say Montsecia vidalii opens the possibility that aquatic plants were locally common at a very early stage of angiosperm evolution and that aquatic habitats may have played a major role in the diversification of some early angiosperm lineages." writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.


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