Nearly 100 million years ago in Myanmar, a never-before-seen species of angiosperm (flowering plant) was caught in a shard of amber. And now, researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) have identified this new species as Valviloculus pleristaminis – “Valva” translates to a leaf on a folding door in Latin; “loculus” means “compartment”; “plerus” means “many”; and “staminis” is in reference to the dozens of male sex organs in the flower. This flower is part of the Laurales family and is related to Australia’s blackheart sassafras.
When Valviloculus pleristaminis was trapped in resin, the area was part of a supercontinent called Gondwanaland and the discovery of the flower seems to indicate that the continental plate where it was found had separated from the supercontinent a lot later than what was previously thought.
The flower would have been trapped in resin prior to the continental plate called West Burma Block separating from Gondwanaland and drifting over to Southeast Asia from Australia (approximately 4,000 miles). Geologists have been long debating as to what time frame West Burma Block broke off from Gondwanaland as some say it happened 500 million years ago while others believe it occurred around 200 million years ago.
However, George Poinar Jr., who is a paleontologist with OSU's Department of Integrative Biology, has stated that angiosperms evolved and diversified only around 100 million years ago which points to the fact that West Burma Block couldn’t have broken off of Gondwanaland until that time frame.
He noted how extraordinary this discovery was, “This isn't quite a Christmas flower but it is a beauty, especially considering it was part of a forest that existed almost 100 million years ago.”
He went on to say that even though the tiny male flower measured just 2 millimeters across, it still had about 50 stamens that were in a spiral-shape with their anthers pointing upwards. To be clear, in a male flower, the stamen creates pollen and the anther is the head. The specimen consisted of an egg-shaped, hollow floral cup with six petal-like tepals on the outer layer and two-chamber anthers with pollen sacs.
While it was only the male flower that was found in the amber, it could have been part of a plant cluster that contained other flowers – some of which may have been female. Pictures of the Valviloculus pleristaminis preserved in amber can be seen here.
The research was published in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas where it can be read in full.