Fossilization is an ongoing process of decay, compression and erosion that can take millions of years and favors the preservation of hard materials such as bones, teeth and shells. But with a little sticky resin and a lot of luck, delicate plants and small animals can sometimes survive for tens of millions of years. When the resin petrifies and turns into amber, it preserves anything stuck in it – including insects, slime mold and even small dinosaur—in a golden time capsule.
A team of researchers recently rediscovered a particularly stunning amber inclusion that had been hidden in neglected museum collections for 150 years: a nearly 40-million-year-old fossilized flower.This tawny flower, which looks like it was just plucked from the bouquet, is largest flower ever found in amberthe team published Thursday in scientific reportThe flower is so well preserved that researchers were able to identify its floral descendants that appeared to live a continent away.
The stunning find comes from the region around the Baltic Sea, one of the world’s major amber hotspots due to the vast resinous oozing coniferous forests that once covered the region. During the late Eocene, between 38 and 34 million years ago, a goop of sticky resin oozed from one of the trees and dripped down, entangled the flowers.
Measuring just over an inch, the fossilized flower might not sound particularly large. But it is about three times the size of most other preserved amber flowers, and larger than nearly half of all other Baltic amber fragments. According to study co-author Eva-Maria Sadowski, a paleobotanist at the Natural History Museum-Leibniz Institute for the Science of Evolution and Biodiversity in Berlin, large flowers are rarely found in amber because of the large amount of resin required to wrap the entire flower. “If you find an exotic flower, they’re usually small,” she says.
The newly reported fossil was discovered sometime in the 1800s, when scientists scoured local mines and coastlines for amber.This flower, formerly known as boletus In 1872 it was placed in a glass case filled with modern resin – then largely forgotten. According to George Poinar Jr., an entomologist at Oregon State University who specializes in insects and plants buried in amber, the flower’s presence today is notable. “Many flowers were described at the time, but most have been lost to science [World] war,” said Poinar, who was not involved in the new study.
Sadowski said a retired colleague told her about a surprisingly large flower in an amber specimen in the collection of the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources. Sadowski knew immediately that this was something special, and she jumped at the opportunity to re-examine one of these historic specimens with cutting-edge technology. The flower’s delicate reproductive organs were so well preserved that her team was able to extract intact pollen grains with a scalpel.Pollen grains — resembling swollen arrowheads — reminiscent of pollen from tiny trees and shrubs belonging to the genus in Asia, viewed under a scanning electron microscope SimplocosToday, these evergreen trees grow in moist high-altitude forests and bear yellow or white flowers.
Researchers propose renaming burial flower to reflect newfound identity bullhead fishmaking it the first recorded ancient Simplocos Plant preserved in Baltic amber. Based on their conclusions about the tree’s modern relatives, the researchers believe it could have grown among the succulent conifers in the warmer climates experienced in the Eocene Baltic region. Sadowski believes each new plant helps bring the old-growth forest into focus. “I look at each specimen as a piece of a puzzle to learn more about the forest as a whole,” she said.