Newfound fossils hint that flowering plants arose 100 million years earlier than scientists previously thought, suggesting flowers may have existed when the first known dinosaurs roamed Earth, researchers say.
Flowering plants are now the dominant form of plant life on land, evolving from relatives of seed-producing plants that do not flower, such as conifers and cycads.
"Flowering plants were the last group of plants appearing in Earth's history," said Peter Hochuli, a paleobotanist at the University of Zürich's Paleontological Institute and Museum and a co-author of the new study. "They are an extremely successful group on which all terrestrial ecosystems today depend, including the existence of humanity."
Flowering plants, or angiosperms, became the dominant plants about 90 million years ago, when the dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. However, the exact time when these plants originated remains hotly debated.
Now, scientists have unearthed ancient pollen grains with microscopic features typically seen in flowering plants. These well-preserved fossils, discovered in two core samples drilled in northern Switzerland, are about 245 million years old, dating back to the earliest known dinosaur in the Middle Triassic period. (See Images of the Earliest Known Dinosaur)