Flowers discovered perfectly preserved in amber globes bloomed at the feet of dinosaurs, suggesting that some flowering plants in South Africa today have remained unchanged for 99 million years, a new study reveals.

The two flowers once bloomed in what is now Myanmar and may shed light on how flowering plants evolved, a major episode in the history of life that Charles Darwin once described as an “abominable mystery.”

Flowers are ephemeral: they bloom, turn into fruit, and then disappear. As such, ancient flowers are not well represented in the fossil record, so these ancient flowers – and the history they carry with them – particularly precious.

“The leaves are generally produced in greater quantity than the flowers and are much more robust, they have a greater conservation potential.

A leaf is discarded ‘as is’ at the end of its lifespan, while a flower develops into a fruit, which is then eaten or disintegrated as part of the seed dispersal process,” said study author Robert Spicer, professor emeritus in the School of Environmental, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at The Open University in the United Kingdom.

“These particular flowers are almost identical to their modern relatives. There really aren’t any big differences,” added Spicer, who is also a visiting professor at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in China.

The evolution and spread of flowering plants (angiosperms) are thought to have played a key role in shaping much of life as we know it today.

It caused the diversification of insects, amphibians, mammals and birds and ultimately marked the first time that life on land became more diverse than in the sea, according to the study, which was published in the journal Nature Plants on Monday.

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