A beautiful and probably deadly plant preserved in amber for years has turned out to be a species completely new to science. The new species, which has been named Strychnos electri, was identified from two tiny flowers perfectly preserved in amber found in a mine in the Dominican Republic. It is the oldest specimen ever found in the Americas of a plant group called asterids, which includes coffee, tomatoes, and olive trees, reports Popular Science. There are few fossils of this species and different methods of dating them, meaning the flowers could be anywhere from 15 million to 45 millions years old, researchers write in the journal Nature Plants.
"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," biologist George Poinar, whose research on insects trapped in amber inspired Jurassic Park, says in an Oregon State University press release. The specimens show that "asterids, which later gave humans all types of foods and other products, were already evolving many millions of years ago," he says. The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that, as the name suggests, Strychnos electri is a cousin of the deadly poison strychnine, though it could also have medicinal properties. (Another species recently found in amber may have caused dinosaurs to hallucinate.)