Have you ever wondered what the first flowers on earth looked like? Considering the diversity of today's blossoms, it seems possible that the ancestors of iris flowers, roses and daisies were magnificent specimens with wild colors and massive petals. After all, try thinking for a moment about the differences between dinosaurs and today's birds and reptiles. If you're curious about the birth of modern flowers, it's necessary to go millions of years back in time.
According to National Geographic, the most impressive and complete fossils of prehistoric flowers were discovered in volcanic ash in northeastern China. By looking at the rock surrounding the fossil, scientists estimate that the specimens lived about 124.6 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs were the dominant species. Those involved in the discovery named them Archaefructus liaoningensis and Archaefructus sinensis, collectively known as the Archaefructaceae family.
Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Archaefructaceae lived in water, much like the water lilies of today. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural history reports that the finding suggests that flowering plants originated in water habitats. This ancient flower didn't have any petals, but it did have closed fruits to protect the seeds inside. This is probably what separated the plants from other species at the time and proved to be a beneficial evolution, according to the source.
While there have been discoveries of ancient flower pollen that predates the Archaefructaceae family, scientists still aren't sure exactly when flowering plants originated. However, it is known that the flower was a key in the creation of new life on our planet. According to Science Daily, the appearance of flowers triggered a huge burst of evolution, producing somewhere close to 400,000 other angiosperm species.
"Before flowering plants emerged, the seed-bearing plant world was dominated by gymnosperms, which have cone-like structures instead of flowers and include pine trees, sago palms and ginkgos," reports the news source. "Gymnosperms first appeared in the fossil record about 360 million years ago."
In addition to being responsible for a huge number of new plant species, the evolution of flowers is also likely the root of the birth of so many animal species, points out Futurity.org. The new types of flowering plants probably lead to changes in pollinating species and animals that ate seeds, like beetles, bees, birds and bats.
Needless to say, humans definitely wouldn't be the same without flowering plants, as their stalks, leaves and fruits make up a considerable portion of our diets.