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Ancient Flower Trapper In Amber.

Imagine a tiny flower that is carried by the wind and lands on the resin of a tree - the sticky substance that oozes out of tree barks.

The resin completely covers the flower. When the tree dies, it falls into the swampy waters. The tree, along with the resin, is buried deep inside our Earth. Fast forward tens of millions of years. The tree remains turn into coal from heat and pressure inside the Earth; the sticky resin turns into a golden yellow crystal. Amber. And it carries inside it, the fossil of a prehistoric flower!

That is just what happened. Scientists have discovered two flowers preserved in amber that are between 20 to 30 million years old. What's more - these flowers may be the ancestors of the many plants that we depend on today for our fruits and vegetables!

A Prehistoric Find

George Poinar, an entomologist, has spent his entire career unearthing insects trapped in amber. In fact, it was a 40 million year old sample of a well preserved prehistoric fly Poinar found that inspired the movie Jurassic Park.

While going through his cache of amber unearthed in Dominican Republic, Poinar saw a fully preserved flower. The flowers are small and trumpet-shaped with a long tube protruding from its petals. Poinar sent his sample to scientists at Rutgers University. Lena Struwe, a professor of botany, at the University was intrigued, and on further analysis found that it belongs to a previously unknown species.

The flower has been named Strychnos electri, after the Greek word for amber (elektron). The blossoms, estimated to be 20-30 million years old, are likely toxic. In fact, some of the closest relatives of the plant today, have yielded a pesticide. But this prehistoric plant was also the ancestor of present day plants such as sunflowers, coffee, potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants - which belong to the same plant group known as asterids.

Isn't Amber A Gemstone?

If you thought amber was a gemstone, you are correct. In fact, because of its attractive golden color, it was used for making jewelry in many civilizations. Ancient Greeks used amber to promote good health and ward off evil spirits.

Amber, as mentioned earlier, is the sticky substance that oozes out of tree barks. It is not to be confused with sap, which transports nutrients inside the tree.

Ambers are like time capsules, and through them, we have learned about prehistoric bugs as well as about dinosaurs. Read our article here about dinosaur feathers buried in amber.

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Title Annotation:History; Strychnos electri
Geographic Code:5DOMN
Date:Feb 21, 2016
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