The world’s oldest flowering plant was a contemporary of dinosaurs like the Brachiosaurus. An international team of scientists has identified Montsechia vidalii as the oldest flowering plant on Earth. The aquatic plant flourished in freshwater lakes of what are now the mountainous regions of Spain between 125 million and 130 million years ago.
It was discovered more than 100 years ago
David Dilcher, a paleobotanist at Indiana University, said the finding represents a dramatic change in the presumed form of one of the world’s earliest known flowering plants or angiosperms. Notably, fossils of M. vidalii were first discovered over a century ago in the limestone deposits of the Iberian Range and the Montsec Range in Spain. But it was only recently that scientists found it to be older than Archaefructus sinensis found in China, which was until now believed to be the world’s oldest flowering plant.
Paleobotanists reached this conclusion after carefully examining more than 1,000 fossils of M. vidalii. Scientists applied individual drops of hydrochloric acid to release stems and leaf structures of the flowering plant from the limestone. They also carefully bleached the plant’s cuticles using a mixture of potassium chlorate and nitric acid. Then they studied it under a powerful microscope.
This flowering plant has no flowering parts
Researchers said M. vidalii prospered in the Barremian age of the early Cretaceous period, meaning it was a contemporary of dinosaurs. Surprisingly, this flowering plant had “no flower parts” such as nectar-producing structures or petals. It would spend its entire life under water in the lakes of central and northern Spain. So, why is it classified as a flower plant or angiosperm? Because its fruit contain a single seed, the defining characteristic of a flowering plant.
Dilcher said Montsechia resembles in appearance its most modern descendant Ceratophyllum or hornworts, which is a dark green aquatic plant. Findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.