August 18, 2022

Blast from the past: Plant that once grew in Caribbean 45 MILLION years ago found in amber

Pin It

plant-644293By MARK WAGHORN From Daily Express UK

AN extinct golden-coloured plant that grew on a Caribbean island up to 45 million years ago has been identified – trapped in amber.

The fabulous flowers were intact when they were encased in the fossilised resin of a long-dead tree – allowing us to see exactly what its prehistoric petals looked like.

Usually plants found in amber are just fragments making this discovery particularly rare.

The two fossils – which have been sitting in a lab for 30 years – are the first flowers found in New World amber from a representative of the asterids.

This is one of the most diverse groups of plants alive today that includes sunflowers, coffee, peppers, potatoes and mint.

They sport a long fused petal tube and visible anthers – part of the flower that collects the pollen from the stamen that produces it. Pollen grain were also found.

Botanist Professor Lena Struwe, of Rutgers University in New Jersey said: “This fossil turned out to have particular significance for our understanding of the evolution of plants in the Caribbean and the New World tropics.”

The bright flowers described in Nature Plants were dug out of a mine in the Cordillera Septentrional mountain range of the Dominican Republic and are almost one centimetre in length.

Analysis showed them to be part of the genus Strychnos – which also includes the Strychnine tree S. nux-vomica from which the poison strychnine is extracted.

Dating of the rock sediments showed the fossils formed between 15 and 45 million years ago – long before North and South America were connected by the Panama land bridge.

The new species has been named Strychnos electri after the Greek word for amber, elektron.


Usually plants found in amber are just fragments making this discovery particularly rare

These flowers looked like they had just fallen from a tree

Professor Poinar

The flowers were among 500 fossils – mostly insects – renowned entomologist Professor George Poinar brought back from a field trip to the amber mine in 1986.

The insects kept Prof Poinar busy in his lab at Oregon State University for years – but this specimen eventually caught his eye.

He said: “These flowers looked like they had just fallen from a tree. I thought they might be Strychnos and I sent them to Lena because I knew she was an expert in that genus.”

Prof Struwe received several high-resolution photos of the specimens from Prof Poinar in April.

Within a few months she was able to confirm they belonged to the genus Strychnos which consists of tropical trees, shrubs and lianas.

She then identified it as new after comparing it to the 200 known species of the genus Strychnos.

This involved physically examining dried specimens collected by explorers and botanists over the last 200 years and comparing their flowers in detail with the new amber specimens.

She said: “The characters mostly used to identify species of Strychnos are flower morphology and that’s what we luckily have for this fossil.


The flower belonged to the genus strychnos


They are more than one centimetre in length

“I looked at each specimen of New World species, photographed and measured it, and compared it to the photo George sent me.

“I asked myself, ‘How do the hairs on the petals look?’ ‘Where are the hairs situated?’ and so on.”

In more than 20 years of work Prof Struwe has named one new plant family, discovered three new genera and about 50 new species.

She said: “The discovery of this new species in a 30-year-old amber collection highlights we still have many undiscovered species hidden away in natural history collections worldwide and not enough taxonomic experts to work through them.

“Strychnos electri has likely been extinct for a long time, but many new species living and, unfortunately, soon-to-be-extinct species are discovered by scientists every year.”


The 45 million-year-old plant was trapped in amber

For more on this story and vide go to:


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About ieyenews

Speak Your Mind