Rare flower ‘trapped in time’ for 34 million years surprises with its size

A team of scientists from the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin and the University of Vienna have identified the largest flower ever discovered in amber. This species not only stands out for its size but also for its age.

The flower and its pollen were trapped and preserved in this resin at least 34 million years ago and, at three centimeters wide, it is three times the size of most flowers in the same state of preservation.

Amber is like a time capsule: it preserves millions of years of plant and animal inclusions in incredible detail.

Plant inclusions in amber are especially rare and extremely valuable to science. They make it possible to reconstruct the vegetation during various periods of the Earth’s history and to understand the flora of the so-called amber forests.

The floral inclusion in this study is encased in Baltic amber and comes from the largest amber deposit in the world, located in Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea coast. The flower was described more than 150 years ago as Stewartia, a genus belonging to the tea family (Theaceae). However, in subsequent years, this was considered doubtful.

Complete view of the piece of amber where the flower is located. Photo: Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

In general, flower amber inclusions are of a few millimeters in size and only rarely, greater than 10 mm. It is still unknown which processes can limit the size of plant inclusions. However, it is suggested that, depending on the surface tension and viscosity of the resin, smaller plant organs are likely to be retained more easily than larger ones.

The scientists discovered numerous grains of pollen shed by the stamens of the amber flower. “It is very exceptional to find such a large flower in amber, with the stamens at the perfect point to be just open to release their pollen while the flower was held in the resin,” says Eva-Maria Sadowski, a researcher at the Berlin museum, in a statement. and co-author of the finding.

Pollen was carefully removed from the inclusion with a scalpel, and the scientists then examined the pollen grains under a scanning electron microscope. “Only extremely high magnification allows us to see the morphological details of pollen grains, which are only a few micrometers in size,” adds Christa Hofmann.

The characteristics of the pollen and the inclusion of the flower helped scientists assign this fossil to an Asian member of the genus Symplocoswhich contains trees and shrubs of the “sweetleaf” family (Symplocaceae).

It is the first fossil record of this genus in Baltic amber, but Symplocos was not the only plant in the Baltic amber forest.

Between 34 and 38 million years ago, this forest was home to numerous plant species whose modern relatives are also restricted to East and Southeast Asia.

With information from Europa Press.