Flower Preserved in Amber Was a Member of Ancient Asterid FamilyBy Russell Westerholm, UniversityHerald Reporter
An ancient flower preserved in pristine condition in amber was a predecessor to plants people nowadays use in their everyday lives.
According to Reuters, the flower is known as strychnos electri and it belongs to the ancient family known as asterids. Detailed in a study published in the journal Nature Plants, the specimen is about 20 million to 30 million years old.
"The specimens are beautiful, perfectly preserved fossil flowers, which at one point in time were borne by plants that lived in a steamy tropical forest with both large and small trees, climbing vines, palms, grasses and other vegetation," study lead author George Poinar, Jr., an expert on amber preservations at the College of Science at Oregon State University, said in a press release. "Specimens such as this are what give us insights into the ecology of ecosystems in the distant past.
"It shows that the asterids, which later gave humans all types of foods and other products, were already evolving many millions of years ago."
The asterid flowering plant has resulted in plants including potatoes, tobacco, and even coffee. However, the specimen detailed in the new study came from a part of the asterid
family tree that gave us poisons like strychnine and curare.
"Species of the genus Strychnos are almost all toxic in some way," Poinar said. "Each plant has its own alkaloids with varying effects. Some are more toxic than others, and it may be that they were successful because their poisons offered some defense against herbivores.
"Today some of these toxins have been shown to possess useful and even medicinal properties."