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The mother of all flowers

Hervé Sauquet and Jürg Schönenberger In the center of this artistic reproduction, the ancestral flower of present-day angiosperms, which probably lived between 250 million and 140 million years agoHervé Sauquet and Jürg Schönenberger

The ancestor of modern angiosperms (flowering plants) probably had radially symmetrical bisexual flowers with at least 10 sepals (leaflike structures separate from the petals) and five carpels (leaflike, seed-bearing structures) arranged in a spiral. The colors, shapes, and sizes of the primordial flower in the center of the image above are artistic recreations, based on information about its probable structure from a study on the floral evolution of angiosperms conducted by botanists from France, Austria, the United States, and Brazil (Juliana El Ottra, from the University of São Paulo). The study analyzed the floral structure of current species and fossils, as well as molecular phylogenetic data from 792 species of angiosperms (Nature Communications, August 1). Despite uncertainties remaining about some aspects of the primordial flower reconstruction, the study identifies the possible changes that flower structures may have undergone throughout their evolution, based on thorough sampling and refined methods of analysis. The most recent common ancestor of current angiosperm species probably lived between 250 million and 140 million years ago. The ancestor of all living seedlings, which includes angiosperms and gymnosperms (flowerless plants), probably lived between 350 million and 310 million years ago.