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Montsechia vidalii

Oldest known flowering plant

Fossil of Montsechia vidalii: flowers from 130 million years ago

Bernard GomezFossil of Montsechia vidalii: flowers from 130 million years agoBernard Gomez

Detailed analyses of more than a thousand plant fossils suggest that Montsechia vidalii, a freshwater species identified over 100 years ago in Spain, may be the oldest flowering plant in the world, snatching the title from Archaefructus sinensis, discovered from 125 million year old fossils collected in the Chinese province of Liaoning. In the laboratory, a group of researchers from Indiana University, in the United States, dissolved the limestone from every specimen. Then, they carefully whitened the cuticles of each plant – the protecting film that covers the leaves –, using a mixture of nitric acid and potassium chloride.  The samples were then examined under microscopes. Montsechia vidalii existed approximately 130 million years ago, in the Cretaceous Period. It flourished in freshwater lakes and, side-by-side with dinosaurs, helped populate the landscape of Central Spain and the Pyrenees, near the border with France (PNAS, August 17, 2015). The fossil material strongly suggests that M. vidalii had no roots or petals. Its leaves, according to the researchers, were arranged along the stem in either a spiral or an opposing pattern. Small flowers sprouted from the leaves, each carrying one seed. “This discovery raises important questions about the evolutionary history of flowering plants, as well as the role of these plants in the evolution of other plant and animal lifeforms,” says paleobotanist David Dilcher, principal author of the study.