The Oldest Buttercup Yet

Darwin called the origin of flowering plants an “abominable mystery.” They appear in the fossil record and immediately grow abundant and varied, creating a problem for his theory of slow but continuous change. The unearthing of a new fossil in northeast China, described online today in Nature, could explain the apparent contradiction. The ancient flowering plant, Archaefructus liaoningensis, resembles a modern-day buttercup, with slender stems and three-lobed leaves. Its discovery pushes back the date of when flowering plants diversified to around 127 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous period. That’s a couple of million years earlier than Darwin had previously thought, suggesting that these ancient blooms had longer to evolve than he suspected.

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