Burmese Amber to OSU Fame – This Flower is History Making

Researchers at Oregon State University have used a flower concealed in Burmese Amber to identify a new genus and species of flower. The flower is a male-specimen, and comes from the mid-Cretaceous period.   

Professor Emeritus for the OSU College of Science, George Poinar Jr. said, “This isn’t quite a Christmas flower but it is a beauty, especially considering it was part of a forest that existed 100 million years ago.”  

Poinar, who according to the Newsroom article is an international expert in using amber-preserved lifeforms to learn about the biology and ecology of the past, went on to say, “The male flower is tiny, about 2 millimeters across, but it has some 50 stamens arranged like a spiral, with anthers pointing toward the sky.”  

Stamens are made up of an anther which produces pollen, and a filament which connects the anther to the body of the flower. Poinar says the flower probably came from a large group of flowers and that the details are very well preserved. “Despite being so small, the detail still remaining is amazing. Our specimen was probably part of a cluster on the plant that contained many similar flowers, some possibly female.”   

The newly discovered flower has a hollow floral cup that is shaped like an egg. The floral cup is the part of the flower that the stamens grow from. The flower also has an outer layer of six tepals, which are petal-like pieces, and two-chamber anthers. The pollen sacs within the anthers split open using laterally hinged valves.   

The name for the new flower, chosen by Poinar and collaborators at OSU as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is Valviloculus pleristaminis. OSU Newroom writes “Valva is the Latin term for the leaf on a folding door, loculus means compartment, plerus refers to many, and staminis reflects the flower’s dozens of male sex organs.”  

Poinar and his colleague at OSU, Kenton Chambers, a botany and plant pathology researcher in the College of Agricultural Sciences, have described numerous other angiosperm flowers that were preserved in Burmese Amber as well. Angiosperms are plants that have stems, roots and leaves, otherwise known as Vascular Plants. The eggs are fertilized and grow into seeds inside the flower.   

This particular flower is believed to have become trapped in the amber millions of years ago on the ancient supercontinent called Gondwana. It would have travelled on a continental plant called the West Burma Block across 4,000 miles of ocean from Australia to Southeast Asia. It’s unclear when this block broke off of the super continent, however Poinar said that since angiosperms only evolved about 100 million years ago, the break could not have occurred earlier than that, which is much more recent than geologists have suggested.   

Poiner was joined on this paper again by Chambers, but also by Urszula Iwaniec, a researcher in Oregon State’s Skeletal Biology Laboratory within the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, as well as Fernando Vega of the USDA, who works in the Sustainable Perennial Crops Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.   

Findings for the study of this extra special flower were published in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas  

By Kyra Young