Our view of the earliest flowers just bloomed. A new reconstruction, the most detailed to date, suggests the flowers were bisexual, with more than five female reproductive organs, or carpels, and more than 10 male reproductive organs, or stamen. Petallike structures, grouped in sets of three, surrounded the sex organs, researchers report August 1 in Nature Communications.
Flowering plants comprise roughly 90 percent of plants on Earth. Researchers think they evolved from a common ancestor that lived about 140 million years ago. But it has been hard to reconstruct the structure of such ancient blooms because so few fossils have been found.
In the new study, Hervé Sauquet of the Université Paris-Sud in Orsay, France, and colleagues combined models of flower evolution with a database of features for 792 species of flowering plants, and data from the fossil record. The new picture of ancient flowers suggests some blossoms lost their bisexuality with time. Also, modern blooms lost some of their whorls, the concentric layers of different flower parts. In some flowers, whorls dropped from at least four to two in petals and the leaflike structures at the base of a bloom, and from four to one in stamen, the team concludes. The finding suggests that natural selection pushed the plants to a less complex floral plan over time.