Research highlight

Evolution: What did the first flowers look like?

Nature Communications

August 2, 2017

A reconstruction of the ancestral flower of angiosperms that gives us a glimpse into the appearance of ancient flowers is presented in Nature Communications this week. The paper offers insights into evolution and diversification of angiosperms.

Angiosperms, the flowering plants, represent around 90% of all plants on Earth and are thought to derive from a single ancestor that lived about 140 million years ago. The origins and early evolution of angiosperms and their defining structure - the flower - has been poorly understood and the fossil record of flowers is limited, necessitating other approaches to understanding floral evolution. Herve Sauquet and colleagues reconstruct the characteristics and diversification of ancient angiosperm flowers by combining models of flower evolution with an extensive database of extant floral traits. Their reconstruction suggests that the ancestral flower had both female and male parts, and multiple whorls of petal-like organs, in sets of threes.

Although uncertainty remains for some of the characteristics, the authors note that the reconstruction allows them to propose a new plausible scenario for the early diversification of flowers, leading to new testable hypotheses for future research on angiosperms.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms16047

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