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Where Did Flowers Come From?

Where Did Flowers Come From? on

DNA and fossils are unraveling a mystery

Where did flowers come from? It’s a question that vexed Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, for much of his life. How did flowering plants come into existence? How did they dominate many of the world’s ecosystems? How did they develop such diversity in form, color, and texture?

The answers to these questions are important to understanding, and not strictly because flowers are pretty and are as much at home in the wild in they are in, well, the home. Flowering plants include three major staples of the human diet: corn, rice, and wheat. They also produce vegetables and fruit for markets and families around the world – and in the era of climate change, the answers can be lifesaving. Fortunately for all of us, science and technology are helping to shed light on the mysteries of flowers.

The world as it once was

If we could travel hundreds of millions of years back in time, there wouldn’t be a flower to be found. Forests at that time were full of primitive tree-like plants. At some point, gymnosperm plants, those that produce unenclosed seeds – such as conifers – would dominate the landscape.

This would then be followed by the appearance of angiosperms, flowering plants. For Darwin, this presented a problem. Based on the fossil record of his time, it appeared as if flowering plants not only made a sudden debut but that the number of species and diversity exploded around the world in the evolutionary equivalent of a blink.

It’s this concept that flew in the face of Darwin’s famous theory, in which he posited that evolution is a slow process. This evolutionary oddity gave his critics their fuel.

Following in Darwin’s footsteps

Since Darwin’s days, science has made great strides in unraveling the mysteries on two fronts: an expanding collection of fossilized discoveries and DNA research. The answers, as it turns out, give greater credibility to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution:

Fossils of early angiosperms – older than Darwin realized – have been found in China, Europe, and North America. These discoveries give credence to his idea of a slow evolutionary process.

Amborella is a flowering shrub found only on the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. Its genome is the oldest angiosperm lineage still in existence, and by examining its DNA, scientists now believe flowering plants appeared when ancient gymnosperms underwent a genome doubling event 200 million years ago. The extra genetic material provided a competitive advantage in evolving new traits. In this case, flowers.

In the millennia since flowers first appeared, they’ve become more diverse in size and color. Petals, it seems, are not created equal – but they do have the same basic proteins. In other words, petals evolve independently from species to species. It’s why roses and lilies have petals but look completely different.

The one sure thing about flowers

Science, like evolution, is a slow process, and with each answer, new questions arise. How did flowering plants become so abundant in some ecosystems, but not others? How did flowers become complex – more attractive to pollinators – before the pollinators even appeared?

About the only answer, we at HOSA International can be sure of is that as flowers conquered the world, they also conquered the human heart. For more information about HOSA, our flowers, our policies, and what we can do for you, or to place an order, call us at 305.470.9991 or complete our online form.

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Flower Distributor

Flower Distributor