The First Flowers on Earth
The Miracle Was Born
The ancestral plant produced the first flowers on Earth between 250 and 140 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs. As with many evolutionary adaptations, it was a fortuitous accident. We might call it a miracle!
Since then, the first flower has evolved into at least 350,000 species. The early evolution of flowering plants and especially flowers is one of the biggest enigmas in biology. Evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) famously described the rapid rise and diversification within the angiosperms during the Cretaceous geological era as an “abominable mystery.”
Evolution of the First Flowers
The Earth was not always such a beautiful and colorful place as it is now. Plants began to conquer the land about 400 million years ago. They were non-vascular plants including mosses, liverworts and hornworts. The first seed plants, known as spermatophytes, appeared 360 million years ago. The spermatophytes are plants that produce seeds as opposed to spores. They are the most diverse and the most important group of living plants. The Spermatophytes are divided into two groups, the gymnosperms and the angiosperms. However, only angiosperms have those structures which are popularly known as flowers.
As long as 245 million years ago, the gymnosperms were the dominant plant form. The seeds of gymnosperms are borne on structures that leave them exposed to the environment. They are woody, vascular plants with seeds but without flowers or fruit. Gymnosperms have been overthrown since the evolution and diversification of the angiosperms. Gymnosperms and angiosperms are both seed-producing plants. One of the differences between the two is that angiosperms produce flowers, which is why they are commonly referred to as the “flowering plants”. Unlike gymnosperms, which depend on wind-borne pollen, angiosperms also spread pollen by attracting insects with colorful flowers, nectars, and fruits. Angiosperms are now dominant over much of the planet’s land surface. They are the most dominant plants on Earth, representing nearly 90 percent of all the living plants on Earth. Their flowers make every imaginable shape, color and scent.
Reconstruction of the First Flower
According to the researchers, the first flower was bisexual, possessing both male and female reproductive parts. When the world’s first flower blossomed, it had over five carpels (female reproductive organs) and more than 10 stamens (male reproductive organs). It was a hermaphrodite with petal-like organs arranged not in a spiral, but in series of concentric circles or “whorls”, as in most modern plants. The first flowers had no nectaries, no scent or color. It may have been just 1 centimeter or less in diameter and it was very similar to Magnolia. The researchers write: “In spite of similarities with some extant (present day) flowers, there is no living species that shares this exact combination of characters.”
Flowers Paint the Earth With Color
Biologically and evolutionarily speaking, flowers exist because they can. For people, flowers are a source of beauty and inspiration. Flowers make our world beautiful like nothing else can. They grow on every continent on the planet, from the highest mountains to the deepest valleys. They inspire feelings of happiness, joy, hope, peace and love. Spread flowers and love to everyone who needs a little sunshine!