The oldest fully preserved lily was discovered in Brazil

The oldest fully preserved lily was discovered in Brazil

This article has been reviewed in accordance with Science


Image source: Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

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Image source: Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

By 115 million years ago, tropical flowering plants were apparently very diverse and showed all the typical characteristics. This is the conclusion reached by an international team of researchers led by Clement Couiffard, Nature Museum Berlin. The team report in the famous magazine Nature plants On the oldest fully preserved lily, Cratolirion bognerianum, which was discovered at a site in present-day Brazil. With the help of 3D computer tomography at the Helmholtz-Centrum Berlin, details on the back of the fossilized plant can also be analysed. The findings raise new questions about the role of the tropics in the development of past and present ecosystems.

Botanist Dr. Clement Quevard of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin has discovered the oldest fully preserved lily in the research collection: Cratolirion bognerianum was found in the limestone deposits of a former freshwater lake in Crato in northeastern Brazil. Cratolerone is approximately 115 million years old and is one of the oldest known monocots. These include orchids, sweet grasses, lilies and lilies of the valley.

The cratolerone is very well preserved, with all the roots, the flower and even the individual cells excavated. The specimen is about 40 cm long, which is not only very large, but also shows almost all the typical characteristics of monocots, including narrow leaves with veins parallel to the leaf sheath, a fibrous root system and tertiary flowers.

However, examining the fossilized body was not trivial, as it was composed of iron oxides bound to the stone. In order to see the details here, Couvard collaborated with HZB physicist Dr. Nikolai Kardjilov, an expert in 3D X-ray and neutron analysis. At HZB, he also built a 3D X-ray computed tomography, improving data analysis in such a way that almost no annoying artifacts arise during the examination of large flat objects. This made it possible to analyze the details of the inflorescence hidden in the stone. Color coding in the CT scan makes these details visible: the main axis is outlined in turquoise, the supporting leaves in dark green, the pistils in light green, and the remains of the actual petals can still be seen in orange.


The color code of the CT scan shows details of the plant: main axis (turquoise), leaves (dark green), pistils (light green), petals (orange). Image source: Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

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The color code of the CT scan shows details of the plant: main axis (turquoise), leaves (dark green), pistils (light green), petals (orange). Image source: Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

Several early flowering dicotyledonous plants have already been described from the same former freshwater lake deposits on Crato. These include water lilies, Aaron's rails, drought-tolerant magnolias and relatives of pepper and laurel. Unlike other flowering plants of the same age from the USA, Portugal, China and Argentina, the flowering plants of Crato Flora are unusually diverse. This may be due to the fact that Lake Krato was located in low latitudes, but all other fossils of early flowering plants come from mid-latitudes.

From this newly described plant Cratolirion bognerianum and the above-mentioned Crato plant species, it can be concluded that tropical flowering plants were indeed very diverse. “Flowering plants likely originated in the tropics, but very few fossils have been described so far,” explains Couivard. This study thus provides new insights into the role of the tropics in the evolution of early flowering plants and their rise to global supremacy.

more information:
Clement Couiffard et al., Fossil Evidence for Basic Monocots in the Early Cretaceous, Nature plants (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41477-019-0468-y

Magazine information:
Nature plants

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