A recent investigation allowed us to understand what the climate was like in Europe more than 30 million years ago, as well as the evolution of forests on the continent.
A new paleobotanical study carried out by German and Austrian institutions made it possible to identify that the largest fossilized flower preserved in amber belonged to a different species from the one that had been described more than 150 years ago, the Leibniz Institute for the Science of Evolution and Biodiversity (Germany).
According to the authors of the finding, published in the journal Scientific Reports, in 1872 the Baltic amber specimen was examined for the first time, officially cataloged as X4088which probably came from the mines on the Samland peninsula, in the city of Kaliningrad (Russia).
At the time, scientists determined that the botanical remains belonged to the species ‘Stewartia kowalewskii’, which is a genus of the tea plant family (‘Theaceae’). X4088 was placed in a glass box containing a resin solution obtained from tropical trees in India, to later be stored in the collection of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in Germany.
A team of researchers, including #paleontologist Christa Hofmann of the University of Vienna, studied the inclusion of the largest flower discovered so far in amber, preserved together with its pollen in the “Baltic Amber Forest” about 38-34 million years ago. pic.twitter.com/MMAywhHv3l
— University of Vienna STEM (@stem_univie) January 13, 2023
After being forgotten for more than a century, researchers Eva-Maria Sadowski and Christa-Charlotte Hofmann decided to take another look at the historic specimen of the preserved plant, which measures three centimeters across, three times the size of most floral inclusions. “If you find a unique flower, they are usually quite small,” Sadowski said.
This new investigation contemplated the extraction of the pollen released by the stamens of the fossilized flower of five petals. However, the glass box prevented obtaining the required sample. After an arduous process to separate the viscous resin that covered the inclusion, it was possible to removing pollen grains from an anther and the surrounding amber with the help of a scalpel.
“It’s very rare to find such a large flower in amber, with the stamens at the perfect point to be open to release their pollen while the flower was held in resin,” Sadowski said. Later, the well-preserved fossilized organs were studied through 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,” Hofmann noted.
Discover the truth after 150 years
Both scientists were able to specify, based on the characteristics of the pollen, that the floral inclusion was related to small evergreen trees and shrubs that grow in Asia, belonging to the ‘Symplocos’ genus of the ‘Symplocaceae’ family. Faced with this discovery, he proposed to name the fossil as ‘Symplocos kowalewskii’.
In addition, it was possible to know that the climate in Europe was warmer and the most common rains between 34 and 38 million years ago, during the late Eocene period. It was also understood about the transformation of forests on the European continent over time. “This new knowledge helps us gain deeper insight into the forests of Earth’s history and understand their evolution over time and space,” Sadowski concluded.