Flowers – they’re all around us today. We take flowering plants for granted, actually. Whether they’re flowering trees like cherry and pear trees, flowering shrubs, or flowers grown simply for their beauty, like roses, we live in a world of flowers. However, it wasn’t always like this. There was a point in our planetary past where there were no flowers at all. Eventually, plants evolved the ability to flower, though. What were those early flowers like? What are the oldest known flowers in the world?
The First Flower
While there has been no fossil evidence found to date, scientists have discovered what the first ancestral flower looked like. They did this by studying 800 of that flower’s current relatives, and taking sequential steps backward in time. Ultimately, the original, ancestral flower, from which all other flowers on the planet stem looks a lot like the flower of a magnolia tree. It lived 250 million to 140 million years ago, and bore multiple undifferentiated petals, with multiple stamens protruding upward in the center of the flower.
The Runner Up
Back in the early 2000s, the runner up for “world’s oldest flower” was discovered. This was actually a fossil, and it was found in Spain. The fossil was dated to 130 million years ago, so chances are that it did not live at the same period as the ancestral flower we discussed previously. It was an aquatic plant that thrived during the Cretaceous period and most likely lived in shallow, warm lakes and ponds. It bore a striking resemblance to today’s coontail, which is used in aquariums around the world. While the plant bore no petals and had no roots, it did sprout tiny flowers, each of which bore a single seed.
Plants Alive Today
While we’ve discussed two ancient (and extinct) flowers, there are many flowers alive today that have remained unchanged for thousands, even tens of thousands of years. Orchids are prime example of this. However, there are many others, as well.
For instance, calla lilies and their relatives are actually older than orchids. The Amborella trichopoda, which grows only on a handful of South Pacific islands, is actually one of the oldest, if not THE oldest living flower, and is very close (evolutionarily speaking) to the first ancestral flower we discussed previously.
Snapdragons and flowers that share their unique structure fall somewhere in the middle of the flower evolutionary chart, with daisies coming into the mix about the same time. At the far end of the spectrum, we have the maypop, also known as passiflora incarnate, or purple passionflower, which is one of the most evolved of all flowers. Other ancient flowers still with us today include water lilies and other members of the Nymphaeales family, magnolias and other magnolids, and eudicots, which includes flowers like the buttercup, the sunflower, and the petunia.
Ancient flowers still live with us, and provide beauty and visual appeal, whether in the wild, or in formal flower arrangements.