Delicate, though possibly deadly, flowers trapped in amber for some 30 million years have been discovered, scientists report.
The fossilized plants are asterids, which make up about one-third of the world's flowering plants. About 80,000 species fall under this taxonomic clade, including coffee trees, tomato plants, mint, basil and tobacco. Despite the ubiquity of asterids today, no fossilized examples of the plants have been found until now, the researchers say.
The two flower specimens, which have been named Strychnos electri, belong to the same genus as poisonous plants that have been used to make lethal, paralyzing substances like strychnine and curare. [Images: Amazing Ancient Life Trapped in Dominican Amber]
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"Species of the genus Strychnos are almost all toxic in some way," George Poinar Jr., an amber expert at Oregon State University, said in a statement. "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."