Amber captures rare plant behavior in an ancient, extinct pine cone

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Seed germination usually occurs after a seed has dropped into the ground, but several embryonic stems emerging from ancient pine cones were caught in a rare botanical feat known as precocious germination, or vivisection, in which the fruit The seeds germinate before they are released.

“This is part of what makes this discovery so intriguing, beyond that it is the first fossil record of plant vitality associated with seed germination,” said George Poiner Jr., a paleontologist at Oregon State College of Science and author of a study on the discovery, in a news release,
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“I find it fascinating that the seeds in this little pine cone can begin to germinate inside the cone and germinate before being eroded into resin.”

Premature germination in pine cones is so rare that since 1965 only one naturally occurring example of the condition has been described in the scientific literature, Poiner said in the statement.


When seeds germinate inside plants, it’s in things like fruit—think of that baby pepper you sometimes see when you crack open a bell pepper—but it’s rare in gymnosperms such as conifers. Those that produce “naked” or non-venomous seeds.

The fossil pine cone is from an extinct species of pine tree called Pinus sembrifolia. Preserved in Baltic amber, clusters of needles are visible, some in bundles of five.

Some of the most extraordinary discoveries in paleontology in recent years have come from amber: a dinosaur tailParts of primitive birds, insects, lizards and flowers have all been found encased in globes of tree resin from millions of years ago. Vivid creatures and plants look like they just died yesterday and are often exquisitely preserved with details that would otherwise have been lost in the crushing of fossils carved into the rock.
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Poiner said that depending on their condition, some stem growth, if not most, occurred after the pine cones were exposed to sticky tree resin. The research was published last week in the journal Historical Biology.

Poiner has worked on amber fossils for decades, first discovering in a 1982 study that amber can preserve intracellular structures in an organism trapped inside. Their work inspired the fictional science in “Jurassic Park” book and film franchise, where DNA is extracted from dinosaur blood inside a mosquito trapped in amber to recreate prehistoric creatures.


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