'World's earliest flower' found in northeast China
Researchers say the Euanthus panii existed during the Jurassic period, more than 160 million years ago
Researchers working in northeast China have found what could be the world's earliest flower.
According to a paper published in the latest issue of Historical Biology, an international journal of paleobiology based in the UK, the plant is 162 million years old.
The discovery provides a "new insight otherwise unavailable for the evolution of flowers", according to the paper's two authors, professor Liu Zhongjian of the National Orchid Conservation Centre of China and Professor Wan Xin of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology.
If the authors' claims are true, the Euanthus panii would be the first flowering plant ever found from the Jurassic period (199.6 to 145.5 million years ago), the golden age of dinosaurs.
The race to find the earliest flower has not been short on controversy. For more than a cenutry, many have claimed to have discovered a Jurassic flower, but samples have failed to pass later examinations or win acceptance from mainstream botanists.
Previously, the earliest widely-accepted flower was the Callianthus dilae, also found in China, which dates from the Early Cretaceous period, roughly 125 million years ago.
The Euanthus panii is different from previously claimed Jurassic plants, according to the paper's authors. Its fossil record contained all "typical" structures of a flower, which were preserved in "perfect" conditions.
Scientists working with the sample have "decent confidence" that they found a flower, not something else.
Euanthus has sepals and petals and other elements common to modern flowers, "organised just like in perfect flowers of extant angiosperms [flowering plants]," the paper claims.
The Euanthus fossil was found a long time ago. It was among numerous specimens discovered by fossil collector Kwang Pan in the 1970s at Sanjiaocheng village in western Liaoning province.
The discovery has "[prompted] a rethinking on the origin and history of flowers," the researchers concluded in their paper.
The presence of a full-fledged flower such as Euanthus in the Jurassic does not fit with currently accepted theories on the evolution of plants, "implying either that such theories are flawed, and/or the history of angiosperms is much longer than previously assumed".