World's '1st Flower' Dates Back 130M Years
The oldest known flowering plant, found in Spain, was aquatic
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 18, 2015 9:50 AM CDT
Found in Spain, Montsechia is the world's oldest known flowering plant.   (Gomez et al/PNAS)

(Newser) – The world's oldest known flower dating back 130 million years is an aquatic species called Montsechia found fossilized in limestone deposits in Spain. But it wouldn't necessarily be recognized as a flower today, given it didn't boast petals or nectar-producing structures. "The fruit contains a single seed"—thus making it an angiosperm, or flowering plant—"which is borne upside down," says Indiana University paleobotanist David Dilcher, who with colleagues reports these findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The plant thrived in freshwater lakes in what are now Spain's mountainous regions, and while reports that the fossils were first discovered more than 100 years ago, the ones used in this study were "poorly understood and even misinterpreted" when analyzed at earlier points, Dilcher says.

One way to spread seed—which in angiosperms is typically done by getting other animals (think bees) or elements (think wind) to carry pollen to other members of the same species—is through water currents. In fact today's descendants of Montsechia, called Ceratophyllum, are found in lakes on every continent, and they behave similarly. "Flowers are all about sex,” Dilcher tells Newsweek. "Right at the start [of angiosperm evolution], this was another method that flowering plants were using for their genetic exchange." Whether Montsechia is the world's oldest flower has yet to be determined, but it is the oldest flower we have found to date, suggesting that angiosperms have their earliest roots in water instead of on land. (Michigan officials are warning about a plant that can blind you.)