Sometimes you do not know what you have until it is gone. Valviloculus pleristaminis provides a perfect example.
Scientists only recently identified this mysterious, extinct flower. It once flourished in the Cretaceous – a flower relic from a bygone era, preserved in time-consuming amber since a nameless day when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.
“This is not quite a Christmas flower, but it’s a beauty, especially considering it was part of a forest that existed 100 million years ago,” says Emeritus Professor George Poinar Jr. from Oregon State University.
Poinar Jr. is something of an authority on amber time capsule ability.
The octogenarian entomologist is widely regarded as the scientist who popularized the phenomenon of prehistoric insects and nematodes trapped in wood resin over geological time scales – ideas that fled literally much of the time in pop culture’s imagination of Jurassic Park.
This lifelong focus began decades ago, but Poinar Jr.’s academic output is still immense. In recent years, he has described old, engorged ticks, discovered new orders of insect life, traced the origins of malaria, and found his fair share of forgotten flowers.
V. pleristaminis, representing both a new genus and flower species, is among the newest in this ever-growing bouquet.
“The male flower is small, approx. 2 millimeters across, but it has approx. 50 stamens arranged like a spiral with brackets pointing towards the sky, ”explains Poinar.
“Despite being so small, the remaining detail is astonishing. Our sample was probably part of a cluster on the plant that contained many similar flowers, some possibly female.”
The specimen in question was taken from amber mines in Myanmar, having been preserved in marine sedimentary deposits dating back to the mid-Cretaceous about 99 million years ago.
According to researchers, V. pleristaminis, an example of an angiosperm (flowering plant), probably belongs to the order Laurales, especially with some resemblance to the families Monimiaceae and Atherospermataceae.
But this strange, extinct flower not only gives clues to the history of flower development.
According to Poinar Jr., V. pleristaminis and other Burmese ravangiosperm fossils as it may also help solve a unique mystery about the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, from which these plants first originated.
Specifically V. pleristaminis would have once flourished on a part of Gondwana called the West Burma Block, which erupted from the rest of the supercontinent at an unknown time in history.
When is it a matter of some debate, with some geological hypotheses separating the date as far back as 500 million years ago.
Research from Poinar Jr. suggests, however, that the West Burma Block could not have rafted from Gondwana to Asia before the early Cretaceous, as angiosperms only evolved and diversified about 100 million years ago.
The debate is unlikely to be over soon, however V. pleristaminis and its amber color gives a new way of thinking about the matter – a budding secret that has been waiting to be told for almost 100 million years.
“The dating of [the West Burma Block] tectonic migration from Gondwana is not yet firmly established, but the 100 Ma age of amber with its included southern hemisphere-related plant and animal fossils may be part of a possible solution to this problem, ”the researchers write.
The results are reported in Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.