Lowering lilies on the tree of life

5:51pm, August 10, 2004

New genetic analyses are shaking the lowest living branch on the family tree of flowering plants. The question is: Should we move water lilies down to that ancient lineage?

Last summer, presentations at the International Botanical Congress in St. Louis redrew the notoriously puzzling base of the tree. On the lowest branch that still has a living sprout, they placed a living fossil that few botanists have ever met. Amborella, a white-flowering shrub, grows wild only on the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific (SN: 8/07/99, p. 85).

Three papers now reconsider that bottom branch. Amborella is not alone, argues Todd J. Barkman of Pennsylvania State University in State College.

He, Claude W. dePamphilis, and their colleagues collected a large set of data and compared three methods of tree drawing.

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